TN, GA Want to Add Gun Owners to Non-Discrimination Laws

Many states have taken it upon themselves to supplement Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by passing legislation that prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s or potential employee’s membership in a particular class of people. Many legislatures have added sexual orientation as a pseudo-protected class but states like Georgia and Tennessee want to make gun owners, transporters, and possessors  another protected class.

Georgia has already passed legislation to this effect and Tennessee is considering doing the same. The proposed law in Tennessee is part of a package of laws aimed at protecting gun owners’ rights in the state. Another part of that legislative package would prohibit employers from banning employees with guns from entering their business premises. The legislative package as a whole will leave employers powerless to stop people from bringing guns into the workplace.

The bill package is a product of the Republican-dominated Tennessee legislature and it is still a relatively large battle amongst conservatives. Some legislators want to make the law similar to Georgia’s law, which is more limited in scope. They want to limit the law to only protect those gun owners who have registered their weapons and who hold gun permits. If the Tennessee law is amended to be more like the Georgia law, its applicability will also be limited to only those employers that own the property on which their business is located.

The bill package carries diverse concerns. The first one is worker’s safety. By protecting gun owners who bring their guns into the workplace, the bill package increases the probability that these weapons will be used in the workplace. The use of firearms in the workplace, especially when the people holding the weapons are not law enforcement officers or security personnel, hinders the safety of all employees. On the other hand, the bill package aims at expanding the rights of gun owners who say they should suffer no discrimination for exercising a right that is guaranteed by the Second Amendment.

The less noticed irony of bringing the Second Amendment into the conversation is that, as much as the bill package will protect Second Amendment rights, it will also limit them. As some supporters of the bill package look to limit the applicability of it to registered gun owners and to businesses that own their own job sites, they are creating limitations to the Second Amendment that are not based on a constitutional analysis but merely on a political preference. For example, few legislators have questioned what seem to be the arbitrary limitations of applicability. Instead of setting the limitations of the bill package according to Second Amendment jurisprudence, Tennessee legislators are using their own political ideas to set them. This is a rather unstable foundation for the bill package if it ever suffers a Second Amendment challenge in court.

The battle to either limit or expand the law is being fought amongst conservatives in Tennessee. These are almost the same legislators who made Tennessee a “right to work” state. Those backing the bill package have argued the issue as a workers’ rights issue. In that sense, it seems that conservatives dealing with employment issues in Tennessee are only willing to focus on protecting the rights of the individual worker and not those of the collective organized worker movements like labor unions.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how labor unions will react to the bill package. The bill package pins employers’ interests against workers’, but it also pins one worker’s right against another worker’s right. Specifically, it pins against each other the right to a safe work environment and the right to not be discriminated because of gun “ownership, storage, transportation or possession.”

To see an article about the bill package and to access the bill package, click here.