Thursday, March 26, 2009

Biden needs to understand the Bill of Rights.

Tennessee is on the right track.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee House voted Thursday to allow people with handgun carry permits to transport loaded rifles and shotguns in their vehicles.

Related: Video: Watch This Story | Read Reporter Cara Kumari's Blog

Representatives voted 82-10 to pass the bill sponsored by Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville, who said the change is needed to bring the law into line with what he called "common rural practices."

"We've had handgun carry permits in this state, I believe, since 1994," said Fincher. "People have been carrying (weapons) in restaurants like the Golden Corral. The Golden Corral hasn't turned into the OK Corral yet."

Under current law, rifles and shotguns are considered loaded if ammunition is in the "immediate vicinity" -- even if the chamber of the weapon is empty.

That means hunters and farmers are technically in violation if they carry both guns and ammunition in the cabs of their pickup trucks, Fincher said.

"We have a whole population of folks that don't even know they're breaking the law," Fincher said. "We have a law that doesn't make common sense and is therefore at odds with common rural practices.

"I think if we trust people to carry firearms like that, it's not a big extension to let them have it in their vehicle," said Fincher. "Certainly, safe gun practice would be to not chamber your weapon and drive around with it."

Several lawmakers voiced concerns that Fincher's bill would only apply to people who have active handgun carry permits. Rep. Craig Fitzhugh said only about 3 percent of people in his county have handgun carry permits but estimated that more than 60 percent go hunting.

"I have probably done that 1,500 times, putting a shotgun in the seat and a box of shells or a shell bag in the seat as well," said Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, said he will see if he can change a bill he is carrying to expand the law change to people who don't have handgun carry permits.

Fincher said he tied his proposal to people holding handgun carry permits because they require background checks and safety training, which will weed out criminals and people likely to engage in nighttime "road hunting."

All 10 votes against the bill came from urban Democrats.

"I really don't see what the problem is with keeping your gun in your car and the ammunition in the trunk," said Jeanne Richardson, a Memphis Democrat who voted against the bill. "It is a much safer plan, which is probably why we have this law to begin with."

Fincher said he had no information available on how many arrests have been made because of the current definition of loaded weapons.

"I think law enforcement knows the difference between road hunters and duck hunters," Fincher said.

Rep. Brenda Gilmore said that the gun talk is a detour from what constituents are more concerned about.

"I think it's clear that the citizens want us to focus our time and our energies on creating jobs and getting people back to work, and we are spending them on abortions and guns," said Gilmore.

Also Thursday, the House voted 89-1 on another bill sponsored by Fincher to underscore people's right to use deadly force if they are threatened with bodily harm in situations like carjackings and business break-ins.

The chamber also voted 88-2 to bar the state Safety Department from collecting identifying information about handguns used in training courses for carry permits.

Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbrier and the bill's main sponsor, said the motivation for the bill came after the department temporarily asked applicants to submit serial numbers for the guns they used.

The companion bills for all three measures have yet to be scheduled for consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Good for Tennessee! Now we need to convince 49 other states to pass the same bill in their state.