Even After Newtown, Tennessee Senate Votes to Expand Gun Rights Again

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Self-interest is a powerful motivator. So to prevent the NRA from booting more lawmakers out of office in the next elections, Republicans are falling all over themselves to expand gun rights in Tennessee yet again. First stop? The state Senate, which adopted the guns-in-parking lots bill by a vote of 28-5 tonight.

This change in the law will let the state’s 370,000 handgun permit owners carry their pistols in their cars onto school properties, college campuses, their employers’ parking lots and anywhere else they please.

There was not much debate tonight, the bill’s adoption being a foregone conclusion. Even the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Jackson’s Lowe Finney, voted for it, showing just how irrelevant and impotent his party is in this state.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin — who handled the bill for the main sponsor, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — called it “very reasonable and well thought out.” Johnson said it “solves the issue for us,” i.e., it gets the NRA off their backs. Supporters call it the “Safe Commute Act,” because they say it’s too dangerous for unarmed motorists to go to and from work in Tennessee.

Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, mentioned the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School — "those babies," she said — and complained that with this year's session only just beginning “the first thing we’re doing is talking about guns."

“There has to be another way,” she said. That brought Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, to his feet.

“We regret the loss [at Newtown, Conn.] but this bill actually helps prevent that loss," he said. "Who are we to tell a single mom driving through a rough part of town who has her child in the back of her car that she can’t protect herself? It’s not only her right to protect her child, it’s her duty to protect that child.”

Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, asked: “Nissan, Volkswagen — we spent millions of dollars trying to bring them here. Are they OK as this bill is written?”

“Some in the business community are comfortable,” Johnson said, without naming any. “Some are not. I want to very clear.”

Burks replied, “It’s a very hard vote to take, but I think private property owners and business property owners should have a right to voice their opinion as to whether they want anything, not just guns, but anything on their property.”

Law enforcement officers, school administrators, businesses and just about everybody except the NRA and yahoo survivalists are against this. It makes it too easy for deranged employees to grab their guns and shoot up their workplaces in fits of rage, business owners say. With the help of legislative leaders, they beat back the bill last year as a denial of property rights. But the NRA retaliated by ousting the House’s third-ranking Republican, Rep. Debra Maggart, in last summer’s party primary. So this session, enacting this bill has become a GOP top priority.

The bill comes up in a House subcommittee Wednesday. Unlike last year, House leaders are gung-ho for it. Gov. Bill Haslam, who once spoke out against guns on school grounds or college campuses, doesn’t seem so sure anymore that he’s against it at all and says that perhaps he’s been a little confused.

Lawmakers are including a provision to grant employers immunity from lawsuits resulting from deaths or injuries from gun violence. That won’t do much for the families of the dead and wounded, but at least it’ll make businesses feel better.

Update: The bill's House sponsor — Cosby Rep. Jeremy Faison — says he doesn't plan to make any changes. “We’re going to pass the same version of the bill, Lord willing,” he said. “Three weeks from now, we’ll have it on the House floor. I think we’ll have the same bill.” You might recall Faison admitted last week he flagrantly breaks the state's gun laws now, then took it all back after his comments caused a little media stir.

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