Gov. Bill Haslam signed the controversial guns-in-trunks bill into law Thursday, despite expressing initial concern over allowing guns on college campuses.
The legislation easily won approval in the legislature last month after becoming an election issue in the 2012 Republican primary.
“Its purpose is simple: to ensure that the right to bear arms is not effectively nullified by policies that force people to leave their firearms at home when they go to work or carry on their daily routines,” read a letter from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the bill’s sponsor, and four other state Senators.
Lawmakers began working on the legislation shortly after the school shooting in Connecticut, which did not appear to affect movement on the bill.
Early on, Haslam had concerns about the measure which sought a compromise over legislation last year that pinned Republicans between two key constituents: business owners and gun rights advocates. While he supported the new bill, he said he was concerned about allowing guns on college campuses. He did not issue a statement about his approval of the bill.
The new law, which kicks in July 1, legalizes the practice of handgun carry permit holders storing weapons in a locked vehicle in a parking lot, including schools and places of employment. Property owners can still exercise policies banning the presence of guns in their parking lots.
One point of confusion about the law when lawmakers approved the measure was whether employers could fire workers who violate policies banning weapons on the property given that Tennessee is a right-to-work state.
“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 under the described circumstances,” read the letter clarifying the intent of the law.
The letter — which the high-ranking Senate GOP legislators added to the chamber’s journal Thursday to clarify the intent of the law — also highlights that business owners are given immunity in civil actions for any damages, injuries or deaths that happen as a result of someone using the weapon they had locked up in a vehicle on their property.
When the GOP-led legislature sidelined the issue last year, gun rights advocates like the National Rifle Association and the Tennessee Firearms Association took aim at, and succeeded at unseating one of the body’s high-profile Republicans in the 2012 August primary election.
The measure passed the Senate 28-5. In the House of Representatives, the measure was approved 72-22, although Democrats failed to convince the GOP-controlled body to add in amendments and exemptions for places like schools, hospitals, mental health facilities and correctional facilities.