The Legislature has adjourned for 2017 and its not certain at this point how much progress or damage that they did to your rights as recognized by the 2nd Amendment and guaranteed by the Constitution this year. What we do know is that they intentionally killed and refused requests to debate constitutional carry and permitless open carry.
Although TFA has not completed a review of all 73 bills that were being tracked, there is one that is an example of what could have been a good bill but that may have been intentionally amended to make the situation worse for gun owners. This bill significantly changes Tennessee law for the worse and we suspect most legislators who voted on it were not even aware of the problem in the bill.
Existing Tennessee law in Tenn. Code Ann. Section 39-17-1306 prohibited by statute carrying firearms in a room (any room) while court is in progress in that room. The language of the existing statute states “No person shall intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carry on or about the person while inside any room in which judicial proceedings are in progress.”
In Tennessee, there are many public offices in the same building as these courtrooms. In some counties, the courtrooms are frequently unused in those buildings whereas other offices such as county clerks, election administrators, county commissions, and other county office are open full time. Under the law as it was, the only spot off limits was the specific courtroom and only while in use.
Senate Bill 0455 (John Stevens) / House Bill 0508 (William Lamberth) changed the courtoom issue and changed it for the worse for many citizens. In the amendment, these Republicans changed the word “room”, as quoted above to “building”. The second thing that the amendment did was to make the prohibition apply “at all times regardless of whether judicial proceedings are in progress.”
These two changes are enormous. First, where the law may have only applied to a single room and only while it was in use, now the law will apply to the entire building and without regard to whether the building is in use.
Not a single Republican House member voted against this bill although a few did not vote at all. Similarly, not a single Senate member voted against the bill although one, Senator Beavers was excused for illness and therefore did not vote.
Some might think that banning guns in publicly owned, taxpayer funded buildings and creating expanded gun free zones is the right thing to do. Some legislators may have understood this when they voted for the bill. Some likely did not but just “trusted” the sponsors. Either way, the effect of this bill is to potentially expand the restrictions on gun owners relative to access to public buildings and increase the number of gun free zones in Tennessee.