House panel kills guns bill, NRA pushes floor vote

By Erik Schelzig

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 6:30 p.m. MDT

FILE - This Dec. 11, 2009 file photo shows John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, at his office in Nashville, Tenn. Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, denounced a mass email from Harris' group that they called threatening to House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville.

Josh Anderson, File, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A House committee voted Tuesday to kill a guns measure that has pitted firearms advocates against business groups.

The bill backed by the National Rifle Association would allow anybody with a state-issued handgun carry permit to store loaded guns in vehicles parked on company lots — regardless of their employers' wishes.

The House Calendar Committee voted 15-8 to send the measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect to a study committee after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville and the panel's chairman, said the move was justified because the companion bill has stalled in the Senate.

NRA lobbyist Darren LaSorte said he will push for bringing the bill directly to the House floor. It would take a two-thirds vote in the 99-member chamber to override the committee action.

"There haven't been a lot of fair and honest brokers in this process this year," LaSorte said. "We want to get that fair and open vote in the public's eye."

The proposal is opposed by Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican speakers of the House and Senate for failing to provide exclusions for large businesses or the campuses of colleges or public schools.

Earlier in the day, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle denounced a state firearms group for an email newsletter they called threatening to House Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart.

The membership email from John Harris, the executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, blamed Maggart for the struggles of the parking lot guns bill, and said that it was time to symbolically "display a used crucifix at the entrance to the General Assembly as a warning."

"Rep. Debra Maggart's political career needs to end much as the Romans crucified criminals," Harris said in the email. "Not just to end her tenure but as a glaring example to other Republicans that you cannot take the grassroots groups or the rights of citizens for granted."

Maggart, of Hendersonville, said it's unclear why she has become the target of Harris' wrath, especially considering the two are former schoolmates at Goodpasture Christian School in Madison.

"I can tell you that some people are concerned for my safety," she said. "We're going to look at that, but I don't know."

Maggart said the drumbeat of emails from Harris' group has done the bill more harm than good.

"The rhetoric that they have churned out every day to try to intimidate and bully us has not been helpful to what we're trying," she said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville brought up the email during a floor debate on an anti-bullying bill.

"To put a used cross at the entrance of the Legislature to warn us against voting against that organization, that is intimidation," Turner said. "If you don't' think it is, God help us all."

Haslam told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the apparent failure of the guns bill is unfortunate because he would have been willing to support a more narrowly focused proposal.

"What you heard really from both speakers and from me was that while we understand the need, we also understand property rights," he said. "There feels like there could be a better bill."

The NRA has rejected a compromise.

"We don't believe that these carve-outs are a good thing, because it treats certain employees as second-class citizens," LaSorte said. "If I work for FedEx, I can't defend myself in the second-most violent city in America? If I work at VW I can't do it? It's just wrong."

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said efforts to reach a compromise have failed because of the unyielding stance of gun advocates.

"We've tried to work with them some, but they didn't want to work with us," said Ramsey, R-Blountville. "They told us what they would allow us to do with this bill — and I don't know that I've ever had a lobbying group tell me what they're going to allow us to do."

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