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Tennessee bill would penalize illegal guns storage in vehicles

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Legal | Market Trends | Repair Operations
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A new Tennessee bill would penalize the illegal storage of guns in vehicles.

The state’s HB 1233 would make it an offense for a gun owner to improperly store their firearm or ammunition in a vehicle or boat when they’re not in it. The rule would not apply to guns out of line-of-sight that are locked in the trunk, glove box, or a container attached to the vehicle. The proposed legislation could prompt collision repair businesses to strengthen their check-in process, notifying consumers of their obligations to remove personal protection and any other valuables, before turning their vehicles over for repairs.

The bill was inspired by a rise in gun thefts from cars; last year, more than 1,000 firearms were stolen from Nashville vehicles.

Nashville police Chief John Drake supports the proposed legislation, saying something must be done to deter thieves from stealing guns and using them for more serious crimes.

“I’ve talked to state representatives, I’ve talked to the DA and other people,” Drake told News Channel 5.  “We need to find a way to hold people accountable for leaving guns in vehicles that are ultimately used in violent crimes.”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Caleb Hemmer (D-Davidson County). Neither Hemmer’s office nor Nashville police responded to Repairer Driven News queries about what the bill would expect from businesses and their employees if technicians happened upon a gun in a vehicle being repaired.

Although the issue remains a gray area, some industry leaders are working to set their own policies.

Linden Wicklund, executive director of the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers Minnesota, said her organization is working to develop a sample operating procedure for its members. 

She recommended shops establish a policy to mitigate risks and stick to it.

“You don’t want to end up in an accidental discrimination lawsuit because you found one customer more suspicious than another,” she told RDN. “Maybe your policy is different for hunting rifles and handguns.”

Wicklund said it is also important for shops to determine their comfort levels when dealing with guns. While some shops might have a policy that involves locking a gun in a shop safe, and notifying the customers, others might be more comfortable calling the owner to remove the weapon before repairs start.

“The safest bet is to call the police, have them run the number on the gun to identify the owner of the gun (it might not be the car owner’s), and have the police call the customer and/or owner to give them a gun safety reminder,” she said.

“One former police officer I talked to noted that he is sure he has gotten his oil changed and forgotten to remove his gun from the car. He said having been an officer, he would understand and welcome the safety reminder. He did caution that guns can easily be made semi-automatic, so there is a safety risk in just touching the gun.”

It’s not uncommon for repairers to discover weapons in the cars they’re repairing. Wicklund said she frequently hears from techs who share stories about the strange things, including weapons, found in cars.

Wicklund said the right steps to take could vary, depending on the circumstance.

“Standard shop insurance should cover customer cars when at the shop, but likely won’t cover the contents of the car,” she said. “Does the shop have a clear customer-facing statement about not being liable for missing property? A gun walking away wouldn’t likely be covered from insurance, so turning a blind eye presents lots of risks.

“One consequence that came up was more about the responsibility to society than something you could be sued for: ‘What if someone forgot they had a gun in their car, and then you see on the evening news that a little kid found it and the worst happened?’ There might not be liability, but living with knowing you could have prevented that is horrible.”


A hand pulls a gun from a vehicle’s glove box. (Courtesy iStock)

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