A Volkswagen official spoke to lawmakers this afternoon opposing legislation that would allow employees to keep guns in their cars on company property. 

“We strongly urge the community to reject the proposed bill,” Reid Albert, general manager of security, fire and general service for Volkswagen Chattanooga, said. “VW Chattanooga is very concerned with the current legislation, which would take away our right to control our property and would interfere with our ability to take the necessary actions to ensure the safety of all of our employees.”

At the core of the debate about the legislation are property and gun rights and whether business leaders should be able to control what an employee keeps in his or her vehicle if it is on company property.

Introduced by Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, Senate Bill 3002 would allow firearms to be stored out of sight in a locked vehicle, while providing employer immunity from liability for any damages.

Senate Bill 2992, also sponsored by Faulk, is firearm discrimination prevention legislation that aims to protect law-abiding gun owners from anti-gun policies put in place by employers. 

“Together these bills will prevent employers from discriminating and enforcing policies against the storage of lawfully owned firearms in employees’ private motor vehicles,” Faulk said, according to a prepared statement. “Tennessee has already recognized that private vehicles are an extension of our homes. These bills acknowledge this and our Second Amendment rights.”

On Feb. 21, a small business owner, Federal Express employee and a member of the National Rifle Association spoke in support of the legislation.

On Tuesday, representatives from 13 different businesses and business organizations spoke against it. 

And some local business leaders are not in favor of the bill. Leaders with local companies Wacker, Memorial Healthcare Systems and Volkswagen have expressed opposition to the proposed legislation.

Safety concerns
Albert said that he is in charge of keeping the company’s 2,087 employees and more than 3,000 contractors safe while on the company’s 13,000 acres of land.

He said the bill would make gun accidents more likely. He also said that during disagreements or emotional terminations, having quick access to a gun would be dangerous. 

“Possible disagreements between team members have already erupted on our site,” he said. “The presence of firearms during these highly charged, emotional situations could cause a potential problem.” 

Memorial Hospital, Wacker and Volkswagen all currently have policies that prevent employees from having firearms on company property.

“If passed, it would require us to change our existing policies,” Albert said. 

Wacker officials said in a statement that company leaders “recognize and support” individual rights and personal freedoms, but there must be a balance that takes into account safety, she said.

“The proposed bill, if passed, would create a serious challenge to site safety and security, and, in our opinion, would present an unnecessary risk to our people and visitors,” according to the statement. “Wacker strongly opposes and will not support this legislation currently proposed.”

The statement also said that safety at the chemical company is very important, and leaders aim to ensure that the work environment is safe and poses no risks to employees, customers and guests.

Spokesman for Memorial Healthcare Systems Brian Lazenby said that hospital leaders are aware of the proposed legislation and are monitoring it to determine how they might be impacted.

“Currently, Memorial Healthcare System policy forbids guns on the property,” he said in an email. “Leadership at Memorial does not feel like it is appropriate, nor is it necessary to bring a firearm onto the hospital property.”

A right to self-defense
At the Feb. 21 committee meeting, Sam Cooper, an employee with Federal Express who works at Memphis International Airport, spoke in favor of the legislation. 

According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Cooper spoke in favor of similar legislation in 2009.

Fed Ex Corp., as an organization, opposed the similar legislation in 2009, also according to the article.

Cooper said that he wants to be able to keep a gun in his car for safety purposes when driving around Memphis.

He knows people who have been victims of violence while in their cars, he said.

And he likened the situation to tobacco products that are banned at companies. Even though smoking may be banned on some business campuses, it typically doesn’t necessarily mean someone can’t have cigarettes in their car, he said.

“Where do their property rights end and mine begin?” he asked. “That’s my car. That’s my private property, and I believe anything that is in there that is legal is no one’s concern as long as it remains in the car.”

Shelby County small business owner Kenny Crenshaw also spoke in support of the bill.

His business has about 30 employees, and they are allowed to bring guns to work. There is no prohibition except to obey the laws, he said.

He also told legislators that he has never had a problem with insurance because of his rules.

He told leaders that insurance representatives have stopped by the office when one of his employees had a shotgun propped up in his office, and no one had a problem with that.

“This particular legislation doesn’t place any requirement on business owners,” Crenshaw said. “There is zero expense. We are not asking them to do anything, and it gives them civil immunity in case something happens with one of these people while they are on their property.”

Updated @ 9:02 a.m. on 03/07/12 to correct a typographical error.