Legislature votes to ‘hammer’ local governments imposing gun bans

The House and Senate gave final approval Tuesday to legislation that makes it easier – perhaps even profitable – for gun-rights groups and their lawyers to challenge in court firearm bans on locally owned government property including parks, public buses and auditoriums.

There was some fairly heated debate on both the House and Senate floors, but with strong National Rifle Association support HB508 passed by comfortable margins in both chambers: Initially 70-24 in the House, then 26-5 Tuesday in the Senate, which added an amendment changing some of the wording. The House quickly signed off on the Senate amendment later Tuesday, 71-14, sending it to Gov. Bill Haslam (who was rather non-committal when asked about it recently).

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House OKs mandate that cities pay triple lawyer fees if they lose gun rights lawsuits

The House approved 70-24 Wednesday a bill that, according to the Times-Free Press, would give Tennessee cities and counties an ultimatum: buy metal detectors, hire security guards and check bags at many public buildings, parks and buses; or let people with handgun permits bring in their guns.

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Legislature repeals state-level ban on gun silencers

The House gave final approval Monday to a bill, officially labeled “The Tennessee Hearing Protection Act,” that repeals a state law generally prohibiting firearm silencers.

The final House vote was 74-18. That came after House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart tried, unsuccessfully, to amend the measure (SB921) to require background checks for persons buying a silence and to declare use a silencer-equipped weapon  in committing a crime a felony.

The Senate had approved the bill 28-1 on April 3. Sponsors are Sen. Steve Southerland Rep. Tilman Goins, both R-Morristown.

In the House debate, Goins noted that silencers must be registered with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms after payment of a $200 fee. He said the bill just “gets Tennessee out of the way” for those who want to buy and use silencers in accord with federal regulations.

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Silent senators block cut in illegal pistol packing penalties

A bill to reduce penalties for illegally carrying a gun couldn’t get a seconding motion in the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, leaving it dead for the year after clearing a House committee that has shot down some other bills pushed by Second Amendment advocates this year.

Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, sponsor of SB339, tells The Tennessean that some senators may have thought that reducing penalties for carrying a pistol without a permit would undermine future efforts for passage of “constitutional carry” legislation, which would make it legal to carry a gun without any permit.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee killed “constitutional carry” bills earlier this year. (Previous post HERE.) But it had approved the House version of Niceley’s bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faision, R—Cosby.

The bill would have removed jail time from the first two offenses of carrying without a permit, and only subjecting people to a $100 fine for the first offense and $250 for the second offense. Currently, the first offense is a Class A misdemeanor.

“The way the law is now, if you get a Barney Fife out there somewhere — they don’t all act like Andy Griffith — if you get one like Barney Fife, he can take her gun, fine her $500 and put her in jail if he wants to. Now why wouldn’t they (senators on the committee) listen to that,” Niceley said.

The measure has moved through House committees despite opposition from major law enforcement agencies who have argued it could create loopholes that would prevent officers from being able to confiscate firearms from people officers know are armed and believe to be dangerous.

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.”