Tennessee lawmakers have approved a bill that would allow adults to carry a handgun without a permit, despite opposition from law enforcement.
The bill, known as “constitutional carry,” allows adults over the age of 21 and military members between ages 18-20 to be able to carry a concealed or open handgun without a permit or background check. The law does not apply to long guns.
Riding on GOP support, the bill passed the House and Senate and now moves to Governor Bill Lee’s desk.
While supporters of the bill call it a “massive step for freedom,” gun control advocates and law enforcement unanimously oppose the bill. According to the AP, law enforcement groups like the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police adamantly defend the permit system that the constitutional carry bill seeks to remove.
The Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association wrote a letter to the House of Representatives that read, “Since 1996, almost 25 years of successful implementation, the existing permit process has served our citizens well. The handgun carry permit process provides a method and procedure that allows confirmation and verification of lawful handgun carry.”
TBI Senior Policy Adviser Jimmy Musice testified to lawmakers that Tennessee’s handgun permit system helped prevent roughly 5,500 ineligible people from carrying a weapon.
He said, “We don’t have any issue and support the underlying policy that those who are legally permissible to carry, possess a firearm and defend themselves. The permit process allows us to actually do that by knowing if that person truly is lawful.”
Republicans who have sought for years to pass this measure argue that the risks involved in removing the regulations are worth protecting citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms. The bill would also increase the harshness of gun-related penalties, which lawmakers argue will act as a deterrent to those who would commit gun crimes anyway.
Under the law, theft of a firearm — currently a misdemeanor — would become a felony with a mandatory six-month incarceration. It also makes exceptions for people with certain mental illnesses and criminal convictions, including felonies, DUIs, stalking and domestic violence convictions.
When Gov. Lee was asked about the timing of the bill following the mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado and Biden’s plea for gun control, he replied, “We, in fact, will be strengthening laws that would help prevent gun crimes in the future.”
GOP senator and sponsor of the bill Mike Bell was well-aware of law enforcement’s stance on firearm regulations.
“We love and respect our law enforcement officers, but there have been very few bills that have recognized the rights of citizens of this state to carry that law enforcement has not opposed almost unanimously.”
An AP report recently noted the ambivalent relationship between Republicans and law enforcement, with the former fervently defending the latter against defunding following nationwide protests last year, but disagreeing on the issue of gun control.
When asked about law enforcement opposing the bill earlier this year, Lee described that feedback as “important.” “You can protect the Second Amendment, and you can protect the citizens of our state at the same time,” Lee told reporters.
The bill may also have economic repercussions. According to The Tennessean, lawmakers estimate that the bill will lead to a 20% reduction (or 36,335 fewer) handgun permits or application renewals per year, in addition to increased incarcerations over gun penalties. The loss of permit revenue and increased incarcerations could cost the state around $20 million.