Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and a handful of legislators are pushing to make Tennessee a constitutional carry state.
Lee announced Thursday that he would be introducing a bill this legislative session that would allow Tennesseans to possess and carry firearms without a permit.
“The liberties guaranteed to us by the Constitution are sacred and we have a responsibility to uphold the framework that those founding fathers established,” Lee said. “They firmly believed that to protect the inalienable rights that they set out, that they needed to ensure citizens had the right to bear arms, which was cemented in the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is clear and concise and secures the freedoms of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”
Lee said the legislation he is proposing would “extend the constitutional right to carry a handgun to all law-abiding citizens with or without a permit who are 21 years and older except in restricted areas.”
The governor added that the legislation would increase the penalties for those who steal or unlawfully possess a firearm: “With the freedom and liberties guaranteed to us in the Second Amendment, also comes a great responsibility to steward them wisely and to protect our citizens.
“The bill is not only focused on protecting our Second Amendment liberties, but also on increasing safety for all Tennesseans. This legislation is about increasing freedoms for law-abiding citizens and implementing harsher penalties for criminals."
Lee said there was an 85 percent increase in guns stolen from vehicles from 2016 to 2017.
“In light of this reality, we need to be increasingly vigilant in also enacting laws that strengthen our ability to protect our citizens,” he said “That’s why the legislation I am proposing will significantly increase penalties to those who steal or unlawfully possess a firearm including a mandatory minimum sentence for those who steal a firearm.”
The penalties for gun-related crimes that would be included in the legislation include:
• Increasing the penalty for theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony
• Enhancing sentencing for the theft of a firearm from a car
• Increasing the minimum sentence for theft of a firearm from 30 days to 180 days
• Increasing the sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm by violent felons and felony drug offenders, as well as unlawfully providing a handgun to a juvenile
Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) also spoke at Thursday’s announcement. He said “it’s a great day” for law-abiding citizens who want to carry guns, as well as “our partners in law enforcement.”
“Communities all across our great state of Tennessee will find this to be an effective tool in combating gangs and violent crime because we’ll be taking guns out of the hands of criminals and taking criminals off the streets in Tennessee,” Sexton said.
Rep. William Lambert (R-Portland) said Tennessee’s bill is the “first of its kind constitutional carry bill that to my knowledge has ever been filed anywhere in the nation.”
“This bill reduces penalties for otherwise law-abiding citizens, individuals who have done nothing wrong other than exercise their Second Amendment right, individuals that would be eligible to get a carry permit, but for whatever reason, did not do so before they came across the attention of law enforcement,” Lambert said. “These are individuals that are mothers and fathers. These are individuals that are business owners. These are individuals that are employees throughout the state of Tennessee that choose to carry firearms for their own protection. And to criminalize that behavior is ridiculous.”
“On the other hand,” Lambert continued, “for those criminals out there, those felons, those that choose to misuse their firearms and attack their fellow citizens, hear this now, if you steal a gun in this state, if you use that gun, or if you possess that gun and you're a convicted felon, you will go to prison and you will go to prison for a very long time.”
Currently, 16 states have constitutional carry laws in place.
One group pushing for this type of legislation nationally is the National Association for Gun Rights. The group is currently working with legislators in five states, including Tennessee, to encourage the passing of a constitutional carry law.
The group has also started a petition asking legislators to pass the law.
“Study after study proves more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens means less crime,” the petition reads in part. “Yet politicians in BOTH parties in Nashville haven’t stopped infringing on our God-given rights.”
The petition continues saying that “requiring law-abiding citizens to beg for government permission through the permit system before they can exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms is a clear violation of that right.”
Currently, in Tennessee to carry a handgun openly or concealed, one must apply for an Enhanced Handgun Carry Permit. Requirements for receiving the permit include payment of a $100 application fee and the completion of an eight-hour handgun safety course.
As of January 1st, to carry a concealed handgun, the law requires a $65 application fee and proof of firearms training that the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security “deems adequate.” This could include online courses or courses administered by law enforcement, wildlife agencies, or organizations specializing in firearms such as the NRA.
Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action voiced opposition to permitless carry in a Facebook post.
“There are basic safety and training standards that should be met when it comes to carrying guns in public,” the group’s post reads. “It’s common sense. It’s unacceptable that our lawmakers keep trying to pass bills that threaten our public safety, especially after Americans across the country have called for stronger gun laws in unprecedented numbers after the horrific school shooting in Parkland.”
The group’s post includes a link to a petition created by Everytown for Gun Safety opposing the legislation.
Also ahead of the governor’s announcement, Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) released a statement opposing the legislation.
“Whether you live in a city or suburb, no family is made safer by laws that encourage more untrained and unlicensed people to carry lethal firearms,” Akbari said. “Tennesseans support the Second Amendment, but they also believe firmly in responsible gun ownership and policies, like mandatory background checks that promote accountability. Permitless carry is a bad idea that endangers every Tennessean.”