Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee threw his weight behind permitless carry legislation earlier this year, publicly touting his desire to see the state remove the requirement that legal gun owners possess a carry permit in order to lawfully bear arms. I don’t know if that was the difference-maker, but Lee’s support sure didn’t hurt, and on Thursday the governor put pen to paper and signed Constitutional Carry legislation into law.
It allows people 21 and older to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit, along with members of the military ages 18 to 20. The new law does not apply to long guns, a point of contention among gun rights activists.
The Lee administration has estimated the legislation will cost the state as much as $20 million annually. The bill is backed by the National Rifle Association but opposed by the state’s leading law enforcement groups, which have argued the change could increase crime and officer vulnerability.
When the bill passed the House on March 29, Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said it was “not the end of the journey” for expanding gun rights in Tennessee.
Democrats, however, were largely against the measure.
“It seems that more is never enough when it comes to gun laws in this state,” said Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis.
In addition to removing Tennessee’s misdemeanor offense for most people who carry a handgun without a permit, the bill also increases punishments for certain gun crimes.
The new law takes effect on July 1st, and for now, only applies to Tennessee residents. Out-of-state visitors will still need a concealed carry license recognized by the state of Tennessee, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see lawmakers tweak that portion of the law in the next session or two.
Tennessee is the fourth state to adopt Constitutional Carry this year, following Utah, Montana, and Iowa. We could see at least one more state adopt the measure this year, but the legislation in Texasis facing some hurdles from reluctant Republicans.
In Indiana, a Constitutional Carry bill was killed by Republican leadership in the state Senate, despite the fact that more than half of the GOP caucus had signed on as co-sponsors.
Fort Wayne Republican Sen. Liz Brown, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee where the bill has been sitting, declined to give the bill a hearing before the deadline, effectively killing the legislation.
Instead, in the last week bills can be heard in committee, she gave a hearing to a resolution emphasizing the Indiana Senate’s commitment “to protect the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”
While Senate Resolution 39 says the Senate supports firearm rights, it does not eliminate permits. Unlike bills, such resolutions are largely symbolic and do not have the force of law when passed. The committee did approve the resolution.
Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, posted on Facebook defending the decision to not give the bill a hearing on Friday. The Martinsville Republican said he never made any promises to give the bill a hearing, regardless of the number of co-authors.
Bray’s main concern was a provision that requires various government agencies to create a database detailing who cannot carry a firearm. He, and others, argued creating that database by the deadline in the bill just is not doable.
In that case, Bray should have moved the bill and offered an amendment to extend the deadline to establish the database, if that’s genuinely a concern. Instead, he simply allowed the bill to die on the vine, and I suspect he might end up drawing a primary challenger in his next election as a result.
Despite the setback in Indiana, it really has been a banner year for Constitutional Carry. There are now twenty states that recognize the right of legal gun owners to lawfully carry without a permit, while just eight states still maintain the type of discretionary (and discriminatory) “may-issue” licensing laws that refuse to recognize the right to bear arms as all the reason necessary to carry in self-defense. As the Supreme Court weighs accepting a challenge to New York’s “may-issue” licensing regime, it’s good that Tennessee is giving justices a reminder of what the right to bear arms should look like.