Attorney General: Gun Measure Doesn't Affect Employment Law

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee employer could fire a worker who violates company policy by storing firearms and ammunition in vehicles parked on employers' property despite a new state law, according to a state attorney general's opinion.

Gov. Bill Haslam in March signed the measure that would allow people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked.

The signing took place despite questions about whether the legislation affects employment law in Tennessee because the measure would allow workers to store guns in their cars while parked in their employers' parking lots.

At the time, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and four fellow Republican co-sponsors submitted a letter for inclusion into the Senate Journal elaborating on their legislative intent for the measure.

While the letter stated the bill does not seek to alter the state's "employment-at-will doctrine," it noted that businesses could run into trouble if they seek to enforce a gun ban on their property.

"Employers who terminate employees just for exercising this right may violate the state's clear public policy that handgun carry permit holders are allowed to transport and store firearms or ammunition," the sponsors wrote.

That analysis appeared to conflict with statements by the main House sponsor who stressed in committee and during floor debate that the bill wouldn't affect employers' abilities to fire anyone.

In his opinion this week, Attorney General Robert Cooper wrote that the law "only decriminalizes the carrying and storage of firearms and firearm ammunition" but "has no impact on the employment relations between an employer and an employee."

Ramsey issued a statement saying the opinion "ignores the clear legislative intent of the law."

"The General Assembly created a clear statutory right allowing permit holders to lawfully keep a firearm stored in their car while at work," he said.

"Any employer explicitly terminating a permit holder for keeping a gun locked in his car would violate the state's clear public policy, opening himself or herself up to legal action. The attorney general is entitled to his opinion but it does not change the General Assembly's intent or the law."

The legislation was approved 28-5 in the Senate and 72-22 in the House. It's scheduled to take effect July 1.

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