House sub spurns bills expanding guns on campus, at stadiums

Guns on campus expansion

Legislation to expand access to guns on college campuses was killed by its Senate sponsor Wednesday after college officials railed against the effort, reports The Tennessean. The Senate version of the bill (SB975), sponsored by Sen. Frank S. Niceley, applied only to part-time security guards. The House amended its version of the same bill (sponsored by Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro) to include all part-time employees. (Officially, Niceley sent the bill to “general subcommittee” in the Senate Education Committee – meaning he’s not going to try for passage this year.)

Meanwhile, the News-Sentinel reports that more than 500 college and university employees across the state are exercising their right to carry guns on public campuses since a new law allowing them to do so went into effect last July.

Guns in stadiums

A measure that would have let off-duty police officers carry guns into any ticketed event was voted down Wednesday in the state legislature, reports WPLN. The broadly worded proposal (HB455 by Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson) was designed to override policies banning guns at private fundraisers, music festivals, even Tennessee Titans games… Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, noted the NFL bans any spectator from carrying a firearm and suggested the team might even decide to relocate rather than allow in weapons.

“So I’m going to have to respect the wishes of the NFL. We spent hundreds of millions of dollars getting them here and building this stadium. And, unfortunately, I don’t want to jeopardize that.”

The bill died on voice vote in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.

Democrat’s lemonade stand fails to sell GOP on gun background checks

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee quickly shot down a bill to require background checks on most private gun sales Wednesday despite efforts of the sponsor, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, to promote the measure by offering to sell a weapon along with lemonade and cookies.

The move was something of a repeat from last year, when Stewart brought a gun to the committee after buying without a background check – and saw his bill similarly rejected. (Previous post HERE.)

From WSMV-TV’s report on this year’s effort:

“I’m selling lemonade, cookies and an AK-47,” Stewart said, sitting at a makeshift lemonade stand outside of the Ben West Library in downtown Nashville. Stewart told anyone who would listen that it’s as easy to buy an assault rifle as it is a glass of fresh lemonade.

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Gun group grumbles as ‘constitutional carry’ bills shot down again

In keeping with repeated rejections of so-called “constitutional carry” proposals in past years, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee last week killed two bills that, with some variations, would have allowed Tennesseans to carry concealed weapons without getting a permit.

The bills were HB40 by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray, and HB493 by Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden. (An AP brief on their demise is HERE; a TN Firearms Association review, HERE.)

Both were killed on voice vote, but two members of the seven-member sub had themselves recorded as voting yes on Van Huss’ bill, the more straightforward of the two, and two others – Reps. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, and Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville – both declared they liked the idea, but wanted to wait for more data on crime reduction/increase in 18 states that have adopted “constitutional carry.” In other words, if Daniel and Martin were sold on crime prevention claims, the bill would have passed 4-3.

Lamented John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association subsequently in an email to supporters of the group, which backs constitutional carry: “This is the same old shenanigans from the same old group of legislators who have proven repeatedly that they are unwilling to even put these issues to a vote on the respective floors.”

Harris also complained that Gov. Bill  Haslam “dispatched a taxpayer funded administration lobbyist to speak against (Holt’s) bill.”

Note: The reference is to Russell Marty, Haslam “director of legislation,” who appeared briefly at the subcommittee session to declare the administration’s opposition to HB493, even after amendments to eliminate provisions that seemed to call for nullification of federal gun laws and declare that property owners could not block guns from being brought onto their premises.

Further from Harris: “Despite Haslam’s campaign ‘promise’ that he would sign constitutional carry into law, the governor’s minion rose and spoke on the record to remind the committee that the governor opposes constitutional carry!!” (An October, 2010, post on that ‘promise’ is HERE, though it appears the link to audio doesn’t work these days. TFA has a video, posted HERE.)

Knoxville settles lawsuit over guns at city park

Knoxville officials will relax the gun ban at the city’s Chilhowee Park under an agreement to resolve a pending lawsuit, reports the News Sentinel. Under the deal, there will be no ban except when a scheduled event is underway at the park.

“If somebody wants to avail themselves of the facility on an average day (when no events are scheduled), it’s fine for them to have a handgun,” city Law Director Charles Swanson said Friday. “Otherwise, no guns will be allowed.”

Loudon County resident Pandora Vreeland sued the city in October 2015, saying she was afraid to attend that year’s Tennessee Valley Fair at the park when she learned she wouldn’t be allowed to carry her gun into the park — even though she holds a valid carry permit. The city bans guns from being carried at the fair or any other ticketed event there.

Vreeland and her attorney claimed the ban violated state law, as laid out in a July 2015 opinion by Attorney General Herbert Slatery. Changes to the law that year overrode any city and county ordinances barring permit holders from bringing guns to local parks. The attorney general determined that change applies even during ticketed events such as a concert.

The city insisted the Chilhowee property off Prosser Road isn’t a park — despite its name — but a “public assembly facility” not managed by the Parks and Recreation Department and not open to the general public during special events and that the law therefore doesn’t apply.

Under the settlement filed Thursday in Vreeland’s lawsuit, the city sticks to its guns that Chilhowee isn’t a park — despite its name — but admits the city “has historically allowed the public to access and use the outdoor facilities … when those facilities are not leased or otherwise in use for an event.” Swanson said that means permit holders who want to visit the site at those times can feel free to bring their guns.

…The settlement doesn’t affect a separate lawsuit filed last year by Kimberly Bergeron, a 57-year-old grandmother and permit holder threatened with arrest if she brought her gun to the fair last year. That lawsuit remains pending, with no hearings immediately set.

With new law, some states refusing to recognize TN handgun carry permits

Because of a law enacted unanimously by the Legislature in April, some states are refusing to recognize the validity of handgun carry permits issued in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Firearms Association and the Times-Free Press.

The new law, sponsored by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and Rep. Tilman Goines, R-Morristown, people serving in the military can get a permit so long as age 18. The new provision, which was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam on April 27 and took effect on Jan. 1, clashes with requirements in other states that permits go only to persons aged 21 or older. (Note: Bill info page on the legislature’s website is HERE.)

Tennessee Firearms Association President John Harris first reported the reaction, listing eight states that no longer fully honor Tennessee permits. The TFP got a list from the Department of Safety, which issues permits, that has seven states – the difference being North Dakota, included on one list but not the other.

From the Times-Free Press story:

In some instances, the states won’t recognize any Tennessee-issued handgun carry permits at all, a Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokesman confirmed Friday afternoon.

…The law creates an exception in the legal requirement that permit holders be 21 and older and now allows active military service members between the ages of 18 and 20 to apply for the permits. It also applies to 18- to 20-year-olds who have been honorably discharged or retired.

“I knew what was going to happen because I’ve looked at this for 20 years,” said Harris, an attorney who was not involved in pushing the 2016 bill. “A number of states have language in laws saying 21 and over.”

…Harris complained the General Assembly “keeps carving up the citizenship based on what your job is or used to be and giving them preferential treatment under a law that pertains to a fundamental constitutional right.”

Note: The TFA statement, listing eight states, is below. Continue reading

Bill legalizing ‘open carry’ of pistols back for another try in 2017

State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray, has introduced legislation that would make Tennessee the 30th state to allow citizens to carry a handgun in an open manner without the requirement of a carry permit, reports the Johnson City Press. Under the bill, carrying a concealed pistol would still require a permit.

Van Huss’s Open Carry Firearms Freedom Act was introduced and rejected during previous legislative sessions, but he is trying again — so far without Senate sponsorship. (Update note: Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, subsequently signed on as Senate sponsor.)

The bill, HB 0040, applies to handguns and not other firearms, such as shotguns. It also still requires those interested in carrying a concealed handgun to obtain a permit.

Van Huss, whose district includes roughly half of Washington County and Johnson City, wants to delete language from current law that indicates handgun carry permits issued by the state require they be concealed. The bill inserts language indicating “it being the intent of the General Assembly that the handgun carry permit be and remain silent as to how the individual wears, carries, or transports any handgun or firearm.”

…(In the bill’s preamble, Van Huss) continues to base his latest request on the 2nd Amendment. He also cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943), that “No state shall convert a liberty into a privilege, license it, and attach a fee to it.”

The bill also names 29 states that currently allow a person “to carry a handgun in an unconcealed or open manner without being required to have a handgun carry permit.”

Bill legalizing firearm silencers: ‘TN Hearing Protection Act of 2017’

Start of an AP story:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state lawmaker is seeking an end to Tennessee’s firearm silencer ban in the name of “hearing protection.”

Republican Rep. Tilman Goins of Morristown has filed legislation (HB11) that would remove silencers from the list of weapons banned for having “no common lawful purpose.” Others include machine guns, short-barreled shotguns, brass knuckles and explosive weapons.

The possession, manufacture or sale of a silencer is considered a felony under current state law.

Goins has dubbed his bill the “Tennessee Hearing Protection Act” of 2017.

Note: Silencers may be legally possessed under federal law – provided the owner registers the device, which requires a background check and pays a $200 fee.

UPDATE: The bill passed. Post HERE.

Gun group urges ouster of Harwell as House speaker

Start of an Associated Press story

NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Firearms Association on Tuesday denounced Tennessee’s first female House speaker as the “pink elephant in the room,” saying Republican Beth Harwell is not aggressive enough on gun rights and should be replaced as the chamber’s leader.

Harwell is seeking the Republican nomination for a fourth term as speaker when the House GOP caucus meets on Thursday. She is being challenged by Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City. While the vote for speaker won’t occur until the General Assembly reconvenes in January, that election should only be a formality as Republicans hold 74 of 99 seats in the lower chamber.

The Tennessee Firearms Association has long criticized Harwell, even though the Legislature has passed several measures loosening firearms restrictions in Tennessee while she has been speaker.

The TFA email is reproduced below.

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Kyle revising ‘Makayla’s law;’ still gets cool reaction from committee

State Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, says a bill she sponsored last year to impose criminal penalties on those who give children access to firearms and cause accidents was “too broad” and she’ll revise it for the coming session, reports The Tennessean. Her comments came at a Senate study committee hearing Wednesday, where the measure – known as “Makayla’s law” by supporters — still got a cool reception from Republicans on the committee.

 “This year, we just want to amend the endangerment statute,” Kyle said. “We did this as a public health problem and the amendment as a deterrent.”

The revised version would only apply when injury or death results from the child accessing the gun, Kyle said.

(Beth Joslin Roth, policy director for the Safe Tennessee Project) told the Tennessean the revised proposal will “have no impact on a vast majority of responsible gun owners.”

“What we’re saying is if you store your gun in your nightstand and your 6-year-old finds it and shoots somebody with it, then, at that point, you would be held responsible,” she said.

…(Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma) Bowling said the case of Makayla Dyer, 8, of White Pine, wasn’t a fair representation of the issue being discussed. Dyer was shot to death by an 11-year-old boy who got his father’s shotgun from a closet.

“The solution whether there’s actually a deterrent or a slippery slope toward more intervention … we just have to look at it and define what is what,” Bowling said.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, called two district attorneys general to testify and asked them if it would be possible to “beef up” the current reckless endangerment law.

Michael Dunavant, district attorney general for the 25th Judicial District, said they are “very frustrated” with the current child abuse and neglect statute, which requires harm to be “non-accidental” for charges to be brought.

“It’s at least possible that if a child got that gun and shot and killed themselves, there could be a basis for criminally negligent homicide, much the same as when you leave a child restrained in a hot car and (it) dies,” Dunavant said.

Note: See also WPLN’s report, HERE.

TN rates high in gun accidents involving children

An analysis by the USA Today Network and the Associated Press, published over the weekend (HERE), reports that gun accidents involving children are more common than official government statistics indicate. It further indicates Tennessee ranked fourth in the nation in accidental shootings of children among states from 2014 through the current year so far. Memphis was first in the nation among cities and Nashville was tenth.

So says a lengthy press release from the Safe Tennessee Project, which includes a list of all unintentional shootings of children within the state that could be found this year. The release is HERE. It includes multiple links to other reports.

The USA Today/Gannet newspapers have a sidebar story on the Memphis/Nashville ratings, HERE.