published Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Gov. Bill Haslam: Tennessee firearm laws fine for now

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NASHVILLE — Tennessee should stick to the "status quo" on its gun laws and make no additional changes for now, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday.

Haslam also told incoming high school seniors at the Volunteer Girls State conference in Nashville that when it comes to the federal government, "I do think the idea of more extensive background checks makes sense to me."

But the issue, the Republican said, is "how can we do that without infringing on Second Amendment rights?"

The governor's comments came in response to a question posed by a student and in responses to questions from reporters later.

Haslam, a Republican, noted that GOP-controlled Legislature has passed several gun-related laws in the past three years.

Among those enacted this year was a controversial measure allowing people who have a state-issued handgun-carry permit to store firearms in their vehicles at work or on most other public or private parking lots regardless of employers' or owners' wishes.

Another law sharply restricts public access to information on those authorized by state government to carry firearms in public.

"We [state] have done all we need to at least for now," Haslam said.

Speaking later to reporters, the governor said "if it was my preference, then there wouldn't be any gun legislation brought up in the next session. Now obviously, you've got 132 people [legislators] who get to decide what they do. But for me the status quo would be acceptable."

Haslam has not brought any of the gun bills, which have been promoted by the National Rifle Association and Tennessee Firearms Association. Haslam and Republican legislative leaders balked in 2012 and 2013 on the guns-in-parking- lots proposal, which drew opposition from businesses.

But a slightly scaled-down version passed this spring with the Tennessee Firearms Association complaining that it amounted to a betrayal because workers seeking to keep weapons in their vehicles still could be fired, according to the group.

That was because the law didn't affect Tennessee's law allowing employers to fire anyone for any reason or for no stated reason at all.

Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris on Tuesday called the new law an "abomination" that needs to put right to protect gun owners as they commute to and from work.

Meanwhile, Harris said the group has more proposals on its agenda.

"Our to-do list has probably got 30 or so areas on it at this point," he said. "We've always got a list of what do we want to change."

One issue the group is interested in is what it calls "constitutional carry" law.

It says that as a citizen, Tennesseans don't need to obtain a state-issued handgun-carry permit. Five states have such statutes while Kentucky has a modified version, Harris said.

Harris noted that during his 2010 campaign for governor, "Haslam said he didn't mind and would sign" such legislation into law. Then, Harris said, Haslam "immediately flip flopped on that and he's never flipped back into it."

Earlier, Haslam was vague on how Congress might strengthen background checks on gun purchases.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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