Safety and OSHA News

Does new state gun law mean businesses can’t ban firearms?

A new gun law goes into effect in Tennessee this summer that allows handgun carry permit holders to store firearms and ammunition in their vehicles no matter where they’re parked. But now, the state’s attorney general says businesses can still create rules to ban guns in their own parking facilities.

The Tennessee Safe Commute Act (TSCA) creates a number of new provisions in the state’s gun law starting on July 1, 2013, including:

  • People with valid handgun carry permits can store firearms and ammunition in their privately owned vehicle as long as it’s parked in a location where it’s permitted to be.
  • The law applies to all private and public parking lots, with the exception of lots at or near schools, public parks or playgrounds, or other public buildings or facilities.
  • Whenever the permit holder is in his/her vehicle, the weapon and/or ammunition must be kept out of ordinary observation.
  • Whenever the permit holder is not in the vehicle, the firearm or ammunition must be locked within the trunk, a glove box, or interior of the vehicle or within a container that is “securely affixed” to the vehicle, and
  • Businesses are exempt from liability in a civil suit for injuries or death resulting from or arising out of someone else’s actions involving a firearm or ammunition transported or stored under the law.

After Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed gun law on March 14, 2013, lawyers opined online that the impact on workplace policies was unclear. A sponsor in the state house said Tennessee wouldn’t dictate policy for businesses. However, the state senate speaker and four senate co-sponsors of the bill suggested employers who enforce a gun ban on their property could run afoul of Tennessee’s retaliatory discharge laws.

Weak law?

To clear up exactly what employers can and can’t do under the law, a state representative asked Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper Jr. for his opinion on four questions. Here are the questions and Cooper’s replies:

  1. Does the new law prohibit an employer from terminating an at-will employee who brings a firearm or firearm ammunition onto the employer’s property? Answer: No. The new law doesn’t impact the employer/employee relationship. TSCA governs criminal law only. An employer may establish employment policies that an employee must follow in the workplace, and such policies may restrict otherwise legal activities. The plain and unambiguous language of TSCA does not prohibit an employer from terminating an employee for possessing a firearm or ammunition on the employer’s property.
  2. Does the new law apply to a handgun carry permit holder operating a privately owned motor vehicle that has been leased, rented or borrowed by the permit holder? Answer: No. The phrase “permit holder’s privately owned motor vehicle” does not include a vehicle leased, rented or borrowed by the permit holder.
  3. Under the new law, does the permit holder violate the requirement that the firearm or ammunition be “kept from ordinary observation” when a parking lot security camera records him or her placing the firearm or ammunition into a nonobservable location in the vehicle? Answer: Yes. The law requires the firearm or ammunition must at all times be “kept from ordinary observation.” Observation by a security camera would constitute “ordinary observation.”
  4. Would the law authorize a handgun carry permit holder to transport and store both a firearm and ammunition in the permit holder’s vehicle? Answer: Yes. Even though the language in the law says “firearm or firearm ammunition,” the law allows the permit holder to possess both in the vehicle.

What the AG thinks about this is pretty clear: Companies in Tennessee can still enforce rules barring employees from storing firearms and ammunition in their vehicles when they’re in the employer’s parking lot. Enforcing the rules includes firing the employee found to be in violation.

However, the ultimate opinion may be that of a state judge who hears a lawsuit filed by a fired employee against a former employer.

The AG isn’t alone in his thinking. The Tennessee Firearms Association’s director called the new law an “abomination” because workers who keep weapons in their vehicles could still be fired.

Will Tennessee lawmakers go back to the drawing board to amend the new law? Anything is possible with 132 members in the state legislature. But for his part, Gov. Haslam recently said, “We have done all we need to at least for now,” when it comes to state gun laws.

Several other states have enacted laws allowing employees to bring guns to their workplaces as long as they’re kept locked in their cars.

What do you think about the new Tennessee law? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • jburzynski

    We have had a similar law for about a year now here in Wisconsin. We know we have some employees with guns and ammo in their cars, especially during deer hunting season. No issues yet.
    The only question posed since doing so was if we would be held liable if an employee who was prohibited from carrying concealed was injured by a workplace violence situation where their right to protect themselves was removed by our decision to not allow guns inside of our facility.
    Time will tell as future case law should answer that question for us.