Standoff over guns at Tennessee legislative office complex

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Posted: Feb 11, 2016 5:55 PM
Standoff over guns at Tennessee legislative office complex

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — If it's up to the Republican speakers of the state House and Senate, the more than half-million Tennesseans with handgun carry permits will soon be able to be armed inside the legislative office complex.

But Gov. Bill Haslam's administration is raising concerns about the proposed change. The Republican governor 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 of how visitors to the legislative office complex would be rescreened upon entering the Capitol building.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, wanted to change the gun policy as earlier as the start of the year.

"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."

But the Tennessee Highway Patrol, which operates security in and around the Capitol, said it wanted to study how it would have to revise its protocols before putting the change into effect.

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.

"It's under our control," according to Bob Oglesby, commissioner of the state Department of General Services.

Oglesby said he's had some informal discussions with legislative officials, but added: "The governor has told me he's not interested."

Legislative officials disagree, arguing that they have the power to decide rules in the plaza. And 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."

Democrats were quick to pounce on the proposed change.

"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.