February 28, 2013 - Tennessee Employment Law Letter
On Thursday, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill permitting handgun carry permit holders to store firearms and ammunition in their vehicles while in public or private parking lots. Now that the bill has passed the House, it is set to go into effect on July 1, 2013, barring an unlikely veto by Governor Bill Haslam.
The bill, which the Senate approved by a similar margin a couple weeks ago, has sailed through the legislature with few obstacles. While prior versions of the bill were adamantly opposed by business groups, this year’s version seemed to be less controversial and appeared to resolve the issue of whether Second Amendment rights should trump the right of property owners to prohibit firearms on their premises.
So what exactly will the new law do? The bill makes it legal for handgun carry permit holders to store firearms and ammunition in their vehicle while it is in a parking lot if the weapon is (1) kept out of sight and (2) locked in the car while the permit holder is not in the vehicle. The bill makes it clear that it will be legal for handgun carry permit holders to have properly secured firearms in their cars at work. The legislation’s impact on employers’ ability to establish, post, and enforce “no-weapons” policies is less clear.
The bill doesn’t address whether employers may enforce “no-weapons” policies through discipline or discharge. While statements made during debates on the House floor were encouraging, the bill’s silence on the issue means it ultimately will be left up to the courts to decide. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey publicly stated that employers will not be able to punish employees for having guns on their premises if employees comply with the law. While Ramsey’s statement isn’t solid legal authority, it does demonstrate that this issue is still very much up for debate. The bill shouldn’t affect employers’ ability to enforce “no-weapons” policies against employees who don’t have carry permits or who attempt to carry firearms in employer-owned vehicles or onto parts of the employer’s premises outside the employee’s locked vehicle.
The bill specifically releases employers from liability for damages, injuries, and deaths resulting from an employee’s actions involving a firearm transported in accordance with the bill. The legislation also states that employers will not be responsible for stolen guns or ammunition.
We will keep you updated as the bill comes closer to becoming law and its full impact on employers becomes clearer.
Kara Shea is the editor of Tennessee Employment Law Letter and an attorney with Butler Snow. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-503-9112. Sara Anne Quinn is also an attorney with Butler Snow. You can reach her at email@example.com or 615-503-9140.