(The Center Square) – A Tennessee subcommittee has advanced legislation that would permit individuals to conceal or open carry a handgun without a permit, but gun-rights advocates say the bill doesn’t go far enough and gun-control advocates say it goes too far.
The legislation, House Bill 2817, would remove all criminal penalties for a person carrying a firearm without a permit as long as that person otherwise would have qualified for a permit. A person who would have had his permit revoked would not be allowed to carry. It still would require a person to obtain a permit to carry a firearm in a city park.
Violations of some gun laws also would see stricter penalties under this legislation, including increasing the mandatory minimum for firearm theft from 30 days to 180 days.
“It increases our liberties here in Tennessee, and, at the same time, it is tough on those criminals out there that would abuse the privilege and the right to carry a firearm,” the bill’s primary sponsor, House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, told the House Constitutional Protections & Sentencing Subcommittee on Tuesday.
Lamberth said that the right to bear arms is an individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He said current Tennessee law sets a criminal penalty for a person who tries to exercise that right without first receiving permission from the government, which is what he is trying to stop.
Although Lamberth said he would encourage a person to take classes if he or she is going to carry a weapon regularly, he does not believe it’s the government’s role to mandate it.
Gun-rights supporters testified in front of the subcommittee to support constitutional carry, but also urged the subcommittee to adopt amendments that further protect gun rights.
“Perhaps it should be more aptly named confused carry because eventually this bill could get thrown out by courts, or worse, get an otherwise law-abiding gun owner thrown in jail,” said Ryan Flugar, the vice president of the National Association of Gun Rights.
Flugar said this legislation is a “watered down constitutional carry bill” because it still would tie legal carry to the same provisions as the current permit rules. He said a true constitutional carry bill simply has one provision: If you can legally possess a gun, then you can legally carry a gun open or concealed. He said Tennessee has a long list of disqualifiers for carry that is longer than federal law requires.
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, an activist with the gun control group Moms Demand Action, urged the subcommittee to oppose the legislation because she said the current system helps promote responsible gun ownership.
“We ask you to preserve a system that lets citizens know that a person carrying a gun has some knowledge of the law and is not a criminal,” McFadyen-Ketchum said. “We all want public safety. Please preserve this system that helps ensure it.”
McFadyen-Ketchum said constitutional carry would make the state less safe and likely would increase violent crime with a firearm.
The legislation passed the subcommittee in a 5-2 vote and was recommended to the House Judiciary Committee. It was opposed by the subcommittee’s lone Democrat, Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, and Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, who said that it was not supported by his constituents.
The Knoxville City Council has passed a resolution stating its opposition to the constitutional carry bill. Shelby County passed a resolution to be carved out of such legislation.
The bill was first proposed by Gov. Bill Lee.