NASHVILLE, Tenn. — People with state-issued handgun carry permits will be allowed to be armed within Tennessee’s new legislative office complex, leaders of the House and Senate announced Wednesday.
Lawmakers and staff are beginning their move into the renovated Cordell Hull office building near the state Capitol building this week. The facility is scheduled to open to the public later this month.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who is running for governor next year, and Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, announced the new policy in a joint release. It says people who wish to keep their guns on them inside the building will be required to present their permits at security checkpoints.
“Once that validity is established, a permit holder will be allowed exercise their Second Amendment while visiting their state government,” the speakers said.
Visitors to the new legislative offices will have to be re-screened if they want to walk to the Capitol via a new tunnel connecting the two buildings.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has spoken out in the past against allowing civilians to be armed in the Capitol building, and his administration blocked earlier efforts to drop allow handguns at the old legislative office complex because the executive branch was legally responsible for maintenance and security of the facility.
“The governor’s position regarding the state Capitol has not changed and guns will continue to be prohibited inside the Capitol building,” said Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals.
Lawmakers in 2016 passed a bill sponsored by McNally that declared that the General Assembly holds control of buildings it predominantly occupies.
Beth Joslin Roth, the policy director of the Safe Tennessee Project, said her group opposes the gun policy change.
“There are plenty of very good reasons that guns have long been prohibited in legislative offices and meeting rooms,” she said in an email. “The presence of loaded firearms in situations where people are often angry and upset is a bad idea. It’s intimidating and has the potential to be dangerous.”
Nearly 600,000 Tennesseans had state-issued handgun carry permits as of October. The state Safety Department suspended or revoked 2,400 permits, and rejected about 2,650 applications in 2016.
Twenty-six states ban civilian guns from being carried at their capitols, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A hodgepodge of laws address who can be armed at the remaining state capitols around the country. A handful have no restrictions, while others limit the practice to permit holders and lawmakers.