A firearms bill that divided Tennessee libertarians has been signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, to become effective July 1, 2013.
SB0142 (and its companion, HB0118) prevents criminal charges against an employee who is a registered gun owner who brings a firearm onto an employer's property against the employer's policy, as long as it remains in his/her personal vehicle and is properly secured.
It also protects an employer from a law suit if a gun inside such a vehicle on company property is used in the commission of a crime, and exempts an employer from responsibility if the firearm or ammunition is stolen while on company property.
However, sponsors repeatedly pointed out that Tennessee is an "at will" employment state, which means that employers may fire an employee at any time for any reason. The new law does not protect an employee from being fired for violating company policy.
Though the Tennessee Firearms Association has supported a similar law for several years, their Web site expressed reservations that the current bill does not go far enough. Concerns include that the bill limits the law's protection to the "permit holder’s privately-owned motor vehicle" which, they say, would exclude permit holders using a borrowed car, a family owned car, a leased car or a rental; the lack of protection for "incidental exposure," in which a permit holder, for example, transfers a firearm from a glove compartment to a trunk; and the lack of protection from job loss.
On the other hand, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan had reportedly hoped for an exception to be added for college campuses, an exception included in a proposed amendment that failed.
Morgan asked Attorney General Bob Cooper whether the new bill would repeal an existing law that allows a "nonstudent adult" to keep a gun in a car on school grounds.
Cooper replied that the new bill does not repeal the previous bill, but rather the two overlapping exceptions will apply to college campuses without interfering with each other.
The bill was not clearcut for libertarians, with some seeing the bill infringing on property rights for employers while others saw it affirming gun ownership rights. Similar legislation has come up in each of the last four legislative sessions, with some observers saying the bill as finally passed represents the best compromise available, leading to some protection for both permit holders and employers.