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VOL. 127 | NO. 46 | Wednesday, March 07, 2012

NRA Aims to Shoot Down Parking Lot Gun Exceptions

ERIK SCHELZIG & LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

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NASHVILLE (AP) – The National Rifle Association is pressuring Republican lawmakers to abandon proposed limitations to a measure that would let workers store firearms in vehicles parked on their employers' lots.

The state's Republican leaders have proposed exempting some businesses from the law that would force employers to allow the guns on their parking lots after vocal opposition from business groups and the state's police chiefs. The NRA's chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox, demanded Monday in a letter to state lawmakers that they adopt original bill be adopted without any changes.

The bill, scheduled for a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would apply to any legally owned firearm regardless of whether the owner had a state-issued handgun carry permit. It would also apply to any private or public parking lot, meaning guns could be stored at schools or colleges.

The breadth of the latest push by the firearms lobby has caused consternation in an exceedingly gun-friendly Legislature. The business and law enforcement groups fear it would infringe on property rights and endanger safety.

"Sometimes you start hurting your cause," Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and a main sponsor of the state's handgun carry permit law, told reporters recently. "There are lines you cross over talking about schools and colleges where suddenly people say, 'Now come on, I'm not sure that's reasonable.'"

Ramsey has said he wants the measure to apply only to people with handgun carry permits, and he and fellow Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville have called for incorporating several exceptions included in a 2008 Georgia law, such as secure parking areas and visitors' parking spots. Georgia also allows employers to ban workers from bringing weapons onto company property if they have been subject to disciplinary action.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after speaking to members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses on Monday morning that he's had conversations with Harwell and Ramsey and favors the proposal similar to the Georgia law because the current measure is "a little too broad."

"There's a lot of conversation about modeling it after the law that passed in Georgia," said the Republican governor. "My sense is that's the way the House and the Senate are both moving."

Haslam added that the key among Republican leaders is reaching a compromise.

"Republicans favor property rights, and Republicans are in favor of Second Amendment rights," Haslam said. "So sometimes our job is to try to find the right balance."

Ramsey said he's "always been one to advocate ... to protect private property rights where we can."

"I think you'll see the Georgia bill passed," said the Blountville Republican, adding that the final version probably won't "go quite as far as the NRA and others want to go."

"They won't be completely happy because it's not everything they want, but I think it's a reasonable compromise."

Cox, in his letter, blasted the effort led by state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick to include what he called "several of the worst aspects" of the Georgia law.

"When businesses invite the public on their property, they surrender some rights to ensure the safety of their customers," Cox said in the letter. "If these businesses cannot guarantee safety in publicly accessible parking lots, members of the public must be able to defend themselves."

McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican, told reporters recently that he is trying to strike a balance between property and gun rights advocates.

"We're trying to build a consensus rather than have one group shoot out there with a public plan and then try to drag everyone else along," he said.

McCormick was coy when asked which group he was referring to.

"Any of the groups – there are several," he said. "And none of which are going to wag us around."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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