Tennessee Bill Aiming at 'Gun-Free Zones' Hits a Roadblock

AP Photo/Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Christopher Mullen

Yesterday we covered a bill in the Tennessee legislature that would change the current law regarding private businesses that want their premises to be "gun-free" by allowing customers with concealed carry licenses to carry in posted establishments unless they are specifically told by staff that they need to remove their firearm from the property. The bill has drawn the opposition of many business groups, including the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and it looks like their objections are having an impact.


The legislation stalled in committees this week, however. House version HB 1904 was kicked to an April subcommittee calendar, making it unlikely to progress through the committee process before the end of session, which expected to wrap by late April. In the Senate, the legislation was rolled another week in the Judiciary Committee, which has been slow to advance bills this session.

Sponsors Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, and Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston argue that the change in law would help prevent future violent attacks by allowing more people to fight back against violent incidents in areas where people aren't typically armed.

"Acts of mass violence typically occur in gun-free zones," the bill states. "Permitting those authorized to carry a handgun in a concealed manner ... in locations that are posted as gun-free zones will raise the level of deterrence for those who intend to carry out acts of mass violence."

If the slowdown was happening in just one chamber I'd be a little more optimistic about the bill's chances, but with both the House and Senate hitting the brakes on HB 1904/SB 2180 it doesn't look good for the legislation. The Senate Judiciary Committee had already postponed its hearing on SB 2180 from Tuesday to Wednesday of this week, and booting consideration to next week isn't a good sign. 


I confess that I have mixed feelings about this bill. From a Second Amendment standpoint I think it's great, but the right to keep and bear arms isn't the only right that we possess, and private property owners should also have the right to decide what activities they want on their property. 

Tennessee has already muscled in on those rights by dictating, for example, that restaurants must prohibit smoking in their establishments unless they refuse entry to anyone younger than 21 at all times; something else that should be left up to the property owner, as far as I'm concerned. The legislature may have the power to demand businesses allow for concealed carry unless they specifically ask a gun owner to leave the premises, but it's still arguably a violation of the property owner's rights. 

There is another approach for Tennessee lawmakers to take, though I'm not sure the Chamber of Commerce types would find it any more acceptable. In Georgia, lawmakers have introduced a bill stating "a person, business, or other entity that owns or legally controls a property and prohibits a lawful weapons carrier from possessing a concealed weapon on such property shall assume absolute custodial responsibility for the safety of such lawful weapons carrier from certain threats". In other words, if you want to stop someone from exercising their right to carry you can, but their safety is now your responsibility if they're attacked on your property. 


That strikes an appropriate balance between our Second Amendment rights and our rights as property owners, and it's worth the consideration of Tennessee lawmakers if HB 1904/SB 2180 really have stalled out in Nashville this session. Let businesses be "gun-free" if that's what their owners want, but make sure they know that if they decide their establishment is a Second Amendment-free zone, it's up to them to ensure the safety of their customers and staff. 

Join the conversation as a VIP Member