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Tennessee Senate passes permit-less gun carry bill

If made into law, anyone over the age of 21 could carry a firearm if they meet the requirements.

Update (March 29, 2021):

A bill that could get rid of the state's gun permit requirements is on the precipice of becoming law after the Tennessee House voted 64-29 to pass it on Monday.

If made into law, anyone over the age of 21 could carry a firearm if they meet the requirements. The bill now heads to Governor Bill Lee's desk, who's expected to sign it after endorsing its passage.

Lawmakers first introduced the bill in 2020. However, it was delayed, in part because of the pandemic.

Right now, Tennessee has two different gun permits and both require some sort of training, whether it's on a range or through an online video.

There are several states surrounding Tennessee that already have a "constitutional carry" law.

This bill wouldn't change the requirements to buy a gun, but it also doesn’t enforce a hands-on training class.

"It worries us because we've taught over 19,000 people in our handgun carry classes," Frontier Firearms founder Brant Williams said. "It's frightening how many coming here with a total misconception about how they can safely use a firearm, legally use a firearm in self-defense."

Even so, he hopes to see the governor sign the bill into law.

Update (March 20, 2021) A bill that could get rid of the state's gun permit requirements passed the Tennessee Senate on Thursday.

If made into law, anyone over the age of 21 could carry a firearm if they meet the requirements.

Lawmakers first introduced the bill in 2020. However, it was delayed, in part because of the pandemic.

Right now, Tennessee has two different gun permits and both require some sort of training, whether it's on a range or through an online video.

There are several states surrounding Tennessee that already have a "constitutional carry" law.

This bill wouldn't change the requirements to buy a gun, but it also doesn’t enforce a hands-on training class.

"It worries us because we've taught over 19,000 people in our handgun carry classes," Frontier Firearms founder Brant Williams said. "It's frightening how many coming here with a total misconception about how they can safely use a firearm, legally use a firearm in self-defense."

Even so, he hopes to see the bill pass the House and become law.

"Lawful citizens should not be required to pay a fee or have to have a permit to carry a firearm. That's just the way our Constitution was written," Williams said. "Our hope is that people will continue to come in and take a course to learn what the law is to learn to demonstrate that they can safely use a gun."

Credit: Grace King

Local law enforcement officers are concerned with aspects of the bill and some are not in support of it passing into law.

What worries KPD Chief Eve Thomas is not being able to see the state database of offenders.

"We don't have access to the information that TBI has to see if people have the authority to carry," Thomas said.

At the state level, the TBI agrees that information, like mental health records, is vital in gun permit background checks and that it could be problematic for local agencies to not have access to those records.

"It's something that we have never supported and is something we have consistently been opposed to," TBI's Senior Policy Advisor Jimmy Musice said during a senate session on March 2.

Credit: WBIR
There are the three main steps to obtaining a concealed handgun carry permit in Tennessee right now.

Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes teaches permit classes and is surprised by how many people don't know the laws and how to properly handle a gun, which is why he opposes the bill.

"I believe in the right to carry and the right to bear arms, but I also believe in our citizens' protection, and they need to protect themselves by educating themselves," Fontes said. "That's something that a lot of people will not do because it's something that takes a little bit of time."

Fontes fears guns will be in more hands without the knowledge of how to use them.

"I'm looking out for the best interests of the Tennessee citizen, both from a civil liability standpoint and from a criminal standpoint," Fontes explained.

He hopes the bill will be amended to include at least four hours of training instead.

Previous

A bill could get rid of the state's gun permit requirements. It's going before the House and Senate starting Tuesday.

If made into law, anyone over the age of 21 could carry a firearm if they meet the requirements.

Lawmakers first introduced the bill in 2020,  but it was delayed, in part, because of the pandemic.

Right now, Tennessee has two different gun permits and both require some sort of training, whether it's on a range or through an online video.

There are several states surrounding Tennessee that already have a "Constitutional carry" law.

People on both sides of the issues have strong feelings for their side.

John Harris, the executive director for the Tennessee Firearms Association believes those current permits in the Volunteer State go against the second amendment.

"They're prohibited from imposing infringement on the ability to carry a gun. And a permit is an infringement," Harris said. "The fact is, Tennessee is pretty far behind the eight ball in terms of allowing its citizens who can legally possess firearms to carry them."

Harris doesn't believe SB0765, the bill endorsed by Lee and filed by Senator Jack Johnson, is a true Constitutional Carry bill. He, along with other gun advocates in his group are more keen on other bills also filed during the legislative session.

RELATED: Gun instructors, former officers voice concerns over Tennessee's push for permitless carry

"It doesn't fully make Tennessee a Constitutional carry state or a permit-less carry state, but it's an improvement over where we are now, slightly," Harris explained.

He said the states that have already adopted a similar law, that doesn't require gun owners to have a permit, haven't repealed or placed more restrictions.

He said he "doesn't buy" the argument that passing the bill into law wouldn't make crime more rampant and people more violent.

 "They just argue from this emotional perspective of, well, we feel like that's the right thing to do," Harris said. "The people that are going to carry illegally or with criminal content, I guarantee you, not a single one of them ever layed the gun down and said, 'Now, I can't commit the crime I was going to commit to today because I haven't got my permit yet. I'll wait another couple of weeks that that just doesn't happen.'”

Jodi Scheer with Moms Demand Action thinks the bill would only make violence skyrocket, adding more crime of opportunity to a community like Knoxville that's already struggling with gun violence.

"When you're trying to put our families and our communities in danger, there is some emotion in that," Scheer said. "To have untrained people with guns in public is dangerous for our communities and our families and we're seeing the impact of gun violence across Knoxville."

Scheer quoted stats that reveal different kinds of gun-related crimes, like self harm could go up if the bill is passed.

RELATED: Knoxville Mayor: Proposed permitless handgun carry bill 'is a step in the wrong direction'

"Research shows that when you eliminate or diminish permitting requirements, gun violence rates, go up, homicides, suicides, domestic violence, all of that gun violence is a very intersectional issue," Scheer said.

Scheer reiterated that MDA is not against the Second Amendment. The group just wants responsible gun owners in communities. 

Scheer said you can text TN to 64433 to get connected with a legislator and share your opinions on the permit-less carry bill.

This bill wouldn't change the requirements to buy a gun, but it also doesn’t enforce a hands-on training class.