The Tennessee Legislature will vote on a bill that aims to expand the definition of “law enforcement officer” to include holders of enhanced handgun permits.
Enhanced handgun permits are given to gun owners who complete eight hours of training. Currently, sworn law enforcement officers must undergo training at the police academy for around 12 to 24 weeks.
Bill HB 2554/SB 2523 states that any individual with an enhanced handgun carry permit is a “law enforcement officer” unless the license is suspended, revoked or expired.
Currently, the Tennessee code defines a full-time police officer as one who has been certified by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission or is a commissioned reserve deputy sheriff who has received written authorization from the sheriff.
Some members of the law enforcement community have been skeptical of the proposal to broaden that definition.
“There’s a huge contrast between the number of hours of training,” retired Metro Police Lieutenant Melvin Brown told WYMT.
Brown noted that police must go through 12 to 24 weeks of training at an academy, in addition to 40 hours of additional yearly training.
“Included in that 40 hours is eight hours of firearms training qualifications,” Brown said.
The former police veteran was also concerned about further implications of expanding the definition of “law enforcement officer” to a wider group of citizens.
“What if you have to be a sworn law enforcement officer to carry a firearm in a state courthouse? Is this going to expand it to where anyone with eight hours of training and an enhanced carry permit can carry a loaded firearm into a state courthouse?” Brown said.
Currently, Tennessee law states that businesses can prohibit firearms from their property. However, law enforcement officers get a pass. By equating permit holders with law enforcement, this could negate current laws.
“If I read it correctly, it’s expanding the definition as it relates to being able to carry a firearm or have certain types of ammunition in private places that have the legal right to prohibit non-law enforcement officers from carrying,” Brown said. “The law gives the Legislature the right to let businesses prohibit non-law enforcement from being armed. But if law enforcement could be armed, do we want that same privilege to go to anyone that can go through eight hours of training and get a permit and not have to train anymore?” he said.
Brown’s advice to lawmakers is to discuss the bill with law enforcement agencies and citizen groups.
“It’s important to hear both sides of the discussion because the state Fraternal Order of Police, the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police and sheriffs’ association may or may not all agree. And some citizen groups about crime might have other ideas.”