(The Center Square) – A Tennessee House committee has advanced legislation that would allow Tennesseans to carry a firearm openly or concealed without a permit, but the current draft of the bill does not please gun rights advocates or gun control advocates.
House Bill 2817, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, would allow a person to carry a handgun without a permit as long as he or she otherwise would have qualified for one. A person who does not meet the state’s list of qualifications to carry or a person who did something that would have a permit revoked would not be allowed to carry a firearm under this bill.
Current language in the bill does not allow nonresidents to carry without a permit, and it does not allow residents to carry inside a state park without a permit that lets them.
Speaking in support of the bill, Rep. James Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, admitted this is not full constitutional carry because of the restrictions, but he said it is not a step backward either. He said every restriction that would be intact already is in place under law.
Tennessee’s list of disqualifiers for carrying a firearm is longer than what federal law requires for possessing a firearm, causing some gun rights advocates to say this isn’t a constitutional carry bill.
“I’ve got some pretty good news for the folks who just testified before me [against the bill], because this is not true constitutional carry,” DJ Parten, the southeast regional director for the National Association for Gun Rights, said during testimony Tuesday in front of the House Judiciary Committee. “... True constitutional carry is simple and straightforward: If you can legally possess a firearm, you should legally be able to carry it openly or concealed without a permit.”
Parten said HB 2817 would put Tennessee behind other permitless carry states because it ties the right to carry to the ability to get a permit rather than tying it to the ability to possess a firearm. He said this could cause confusion among gun owners and could land otherwise law abiding citizens in jail for misunderstanding the law. If lawmakers made this change, he said NAGR would fully support the bill.
The legislation does not make gun control advocates happy, either. Bill Gibbons, president of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, told the committee his organization opposes this bill, saying the organization believes it will embolden people to illegally carry firearms because police would have no basis to stop them and ask them for a permit, which they can do under current law. He said Tennessee has a good permit system and getting rid of it likely would increase violent crime. The Memphis Police Department also opposes the legislation.
Under the bill, those who violate certain gun laws also would face harsher penalties. For example, the mandatory minimum for firearm theft would increase from 30 days to 180 days.
The legislation advanced through the House Judiciary Committee, 16-7, on Tuesday and was recommended for passage to the Finance, Ways & Means Committee.
On Wednesday, the Constitutional Protections & Sentencing Subcommittee acted on several pieces of gun legislation, some of which would address concerns of gun rights advocates, and sent them to the full Judiciary Committee.
The subcommittee advanced House Bill 1553, sponsored by Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, which would remove all criminal penalties for carrying a firearm openly or concealed as long as the person possesses that gun legally. Parten testified in favor of this bill because it removes the restrictions in HB 2817, which causes it to fall short of his definition for constitutional carry.
Griffey said he plans to proceed with this bill until HB 2817 passes. At that point, he said he will withdraw the legislation so the state can move forward with HB 2817, which he said will make progress on the issue.
House Bill 2661, sponsored by Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, would permit a person to conceal carry a firearm without a permit but not permit a person to open carry without a permit, also passed the subcommittee.