Standoff over guns at Tennessee legislative office complex
Feb. 12, 2016
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — If it's up to the Republican speakers of the state House and Senate, the more than half-million Tennesseans with permits will soon be able to carry guns inside the legislative office complex.
The proposal announced Thursday comes as lawmakers in Arizona, Florida and Wyoming are also considering loosening gun restrictions at their statehouses this year.
But Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's administration is raising concerns about the proposed change in Tennessee. Haslam said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that he wants to keep the gun ban within the state Capitol building, which is connected to the Legislative Plaza via an underground tunnel.
"We don't think that people should be able to bring weapons in here," Haslam said. "This is a secure building. We've got metal detectors; we've got troopers with guns."
Haslam said it would create a logistical problem in figuring out how to rescreen visitors to the legislative office complex when they enter the Capitol building.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, wanted to change the gun policy as early as the start of the year. But the Tennessee Highway Patrol, which operates security in and around the Capitol, asked for time to study how it would have to revise its protocols before putting the change into effect.
"It's not going to be a problem," Ramsey said. "It's a proven statistic — undisputable — that if gun carry permit holders are allowed into a facility, it is safer, not less safe."
Haslam said it's not clear that lawmakers as tenants of the state-owned Legislative Plaza have the authority to change the gun policies there. Legislative officials disagree, arguing that they have the power to decide rules for their offices and committee rooms. Haslam said he's willing to discuss the matter.
"That's their work environment," he said. "If they decide they want to do that, I'm willing to have that conversation. But we feel really strongly about the Capitol not being that way."
States like Idaho, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Utah have no restrictions on bringing guns into the Capitol, while others like Texas and Oregon only allow permit holders to be armed.
In Kentucky, anyone can bring guns to Capitol meetings — as long as they are carried openly. Firearms can be carried anywhere on the state Capitol campus in Olympia, Washington, but lawmakers last year banned guns from being carried openly in the galleries overlooking the House and Senate floors.
Democrats pounced on the proposed change in Tennessee.
"Introducing loaded weapons to a crowded space like this poses an unnecessary risk," state Rep. John Ray Clemons, D-Nashville, said in a release.
Beth Joslin Roth, the executive director of the Safe Tennessee Project, also spoke out against the change.
"Contrary to the myths we hear at Legislative Plaza, allowing more guns where they were previously prohibited will only increase the likelihood of unintentional shootings," she said in a release.
Associated Press statehouse reporters Ben Neary in Cheyenne, Wyo.; Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas; John Hanna in Topeka, Kan.; Adam Beam in Frankfort, Ky.; Ryan Van Velzer in Phoenix; and Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Fla.; Kimberlee Kruesi in Boise, Idaho; and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.