Last week, Gov. Bill Lee announced his intent that Tennessee would soon join the ranks of 16 other U.S. states allowing permitless Constitutional Carry, and said this at a press conference:
“The Second Amendment is clear and concise and secures the freedoms of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms
“I am pleased to announce Constitutional Carry legislation today that will protect the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans, while also stiffening penalties on criminals who steal or illegally possess firearms.
“I appreciate Lt. Governor McNally and Speaker Sexton for helping to lead the way on this important issue.”
Lee also stated it was time to start trusting the law-abiding citizens of Tennessee. Many agree, including this writer.
Constitutional Carry in Tennessee has long been the goal of the Tennessee Firearms Association and all true supporters of the Second Amendment. So the sentiment expressed by the governor was good to hear.
The legislation is SB2671/HB2817, a caption bill with an amendment (SA0544) that changes the bill.
Just for your information, the Tennessee code referenced in the caption bill is completely different than the codes involved in the amendment.
Remember, too, that the governor announced the legislation on Feb. 27 and the amended bill passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
As I understand it, the amendment wasn’t available for viewing by the general public until Monday: Move along; nothing to see here.
However, despite his clearly stated intent, the current bill before the legislature is anything but clear and concise.
While it does allow for permitless carry, which is a good step, if anybody thought the Constitution — the Second Amendment in particular — would now be seen as the only permit needed to fully engage in your Second Amendment protected right, they might be disappointed.
To fully explain, some background is needed. Article 1, Section 26, the Declaration of Rights of the Tennessee Constitution, states:
“That the citizens of this state have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.”
It is very likely this was inserted into the 1870 Constitution as a way of keeping recently freed slaves from being armed.
Current Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) states the following in reference to going armed:
“Tennessee Code Title 39. Criminal Offenses § 39-17-1307 - (a)(1) A person commits an offense who carries, with the intent to go armed, a firearm or a club.
“(2)(A) The first violation of subdivision (a)(1) is a Class C misdemeanor, and, in addition to possible imprisonment as provided by law, may be punished by a fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500).
“(B) A second or subsequent violation of subdivision (a)(1) is a Class B misdemeanor.
“(C) A violation of subdivision (a)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor if the person’s carrying of a handgun occurred at a place open to the public where one (1) or more persons were present.”
There are more elements to this code, but this is the relevant part.
If you currently have what is now known as an enhanced permit, you remember all the hoops you had to jump through to exercise your “right.” This permit provides an exception to prosecution. Basically, Tennessee currently requires citizens to pay a fee, take a class and get fingerprinted to exercise their “right.”
When Lee said he wanted Tennessee to start trusting the citizens and make Tennessee a Constitutional Carry state, you might have thought any references to the existing permit system would be moot within Tennessee.
In fact, the applicable code above could be done away with where firearms are concerned, right? Surely, if he referenced the Second Amendment, that is what he meant, right? And, surely, this right is to be fully exercised by every citizen equally, right?
Before we get there, know that for the purpose of being able to travel to other states that recognize Tennessee’s current handgun permit, most of us who have them intend to keep them.
Unfortunately, the references to the permit system in the amendment have nothing to do with traveling to another state.
Now, back to the discrepancy between what the governor said and what was passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The House will take it up in committee next Tuesday.)
Some general bill facts include:
It applies to handguns only.
The bill does not address “prohibited” locations like public parks or public buildings.
Section 1 of the proposed law does not alter TCA 39-17-1307(a) by “removing the Class C misdemeanor” – it is still there. What this bill does is it creates a new subpart (g) that states:
“It is an exception to the application of subsection (a) that a person is carrying, whether openly or concealed, a handgun and:
“(1) The person meets the qualifications for the issuance of an enhanced handgun carry permit under § 39-17-1351(b) and (c);
“(2) The person lawfully possesses the handgun; and
“(3) The person is in a place where the person has a right to be.”
The amendment creates an exception to a charge of illegal carrying if certain conditions are met.
Note the standard appears to be the qualifications for Tennessee’s current enhanced handgun carry permit, not the Second Amendment as the governor referenced.
The bill contains numerous conditions that could exclude some individuals who otherwise can legally possess a handgun from being able to carry a handgun in Tennessee under this proposed permitless carry exception.
Here are some, but not all, of those conditions:
• Subsection (g)(1), by adopting 39-17-1351(b), the bill is limited to Tennessee residents only.
• Subsection (g)(1), by adopting 39-17-1351(b), the bill is limited to those who are not prohibited from possessing a firearm under TCA 39-17-1307(b), 18 USC 922(g) “or any other state or federal law.”
• Subsection (g)(1), by adopting 39-17-1351(b), the bill is limited to those age 21 and up and a limited group of individuals ages 18-20, depending on whether the individual is enlisted or has had military experience.
• Subsection (g)(1), by adopting 39-17-1351(c), the bill adopts all of the conditions for applying for an enhanced handgun permit, including some conditions which do not disqualify a person from legally purchasing or possessing a firearm under state or federal law.
• Subsection (g)(3) requires that the person be in a place where the person has a right to be.
• Sections 2-5 of the bill amend existing law to allow someone who is able to transport a firearm, even under this new proposed subpart (g), to store the weapon in a personal vehicle as long as it is parked where the owner has a right to park the car.
Note, however, that there is no language to amend existing TCA 50-1-312, which is the statute that allows employees to store weapons in employee parking lots, which presumably would still be limited to handgun permit holders.
• Sections 6-7 address the duty of handgun permit holders to display their permits on demand of law enforcement and include minor adjustments relative to the capability of individuals to engage in permitless carry under this bill.
So, while the bill does create permitless carry, it might not mean what many think it means, and whatever it is, it is not Constitutional Carry.
Hopefully, the issues will be amended. If you want it to be, call Lee’s office at 615-741-2001.
You might suggest he support Rep. Bruce Griifey’s HB1553 (SB1566), which is a simpler and more effective “exception” to the current law!
DAVE VANCE of Stewart County is a member of the local Volunteers for Freedom Tea Party. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.