Shoot-out on gun carry bill

Sandra ClarkLet's Talk

The Tennessee Senate passed Gov. Bill Lee’s “constitutional carry” bill 23-9 on March 18 with Knox County’s senators split – Richard Briggs and Becky Massey voted no, while Lt. Gov. Randy McNally voted yes.


The companion bill, HB786, will be heard in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 23. Two similar bills are also moving through committees in the House, although Nashville sources say McNally put the kibosh on them in the Senate.

It’s Nashville, so rival lobbying groups are involved – not pro vs. con but pro vs. pro-er.

The National Rifle Association likes the governor’s bill. In an online post, the NRA saluted its Senate passage “despite a swath of misinformation and disingenuous attack ads against pro-gun legislators from gun control organizations and out-of-state fundraising groups.”

The Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA) calls itself “the only no-compromise gun organization.” It says the governor’s bill does not go far enough. In almost daily emails, it urges members to contact legislators to say that the bill should be amended to include all firearms (long guns as well as handguns) and should apply to any person who can legally possess a firearm.

Lee’s bill allows open or concealed carry without a permit, but is limited to Tennessee residents who are at least 21 and it prohibits permitless carry for any weapon that does not meet the statutory definition of a handgun.

Hear the debate here. (Start at 29:25) I listened to every word so you don’t have to. Below are some good quotes.

The bill was carried by Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. He offered an amendment to restrict permitless carry from stalkers or persons convicted of DUI under certain circumstances.

Sen. Sara Kyle of Memphis said her police chief says this bill will make life harder for his officers. Citizens will not be safer if people who refuse training and refuse background checks are going armed. “Families have a right not to be shot.” She voted no.

Sen. Heidi Campbell of Nashville said 83 percent of Tennesseans oppose this legislation. (She did not cite a source.) She predicted suicides will increase. “In 2018, 690 Tennesseans used a gun to take their own life; in 2019, 746. Two Tennesseans per day commit suicide with a firearm, many are young people.” Bell said his bill would not increase the number of guns.

Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville asked about checks for mental illness? Bell said his bill is neutral on that. “If they go to purchase a gun, they have to fill out a federal form. You can’t purchase a gun if you don’t pass the background check.”

Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield said 31 states “have done this to some extent and the proverbial sky did not fall. … A constitutional right should not be suppressed, repressed, restricted or registered. A constitutional right should be restored.” He voted yes, calling the bill a step in the right direction.

Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains suggested legislators reinstate “Class X felonies” which required a mandatory 10-year sentence if the perpetrator carried a gun.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari of Memphis said, “I don’t see why this law is needed. You can have a gun; you just need to be safe and registered. … Voting is a right, but you need to register. You can’t just show up.”

In summary, Bell said permitless carry does not change the requirements for gun ownership. It does not affect property owners, who can prohibit guns on their property by posting. “Why now? Why are we here? Ammunition is almost impossible to find. Guns are hard to find. Constituents are alarmed about federal laws – concerned about what may be coming down from Washington.”

Final thoughts:
  • If the House passes a less restrictive bill, then what happens in the Senate? I don’t see seven votes peeling off the 23 pro votes on Thursday. The Senate wants permitless carry whether it’s the governor’s bill or not.
  • Sen. Bell is correct. We can expect tighter gun laws from Washington, but there’s nothing the state can do to stop them. State law cannot nullify federal law. We had a civil war to resolve that.
  • Tennessee will lose an estimated $17 million annually – money currently paid for carry permits. Just call it another Republican tax cut.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today.

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