(Photo taken Feb. 3, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee, by Karen Pulfer Focht.)
(Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

During the past few weeks, my roles as a college composition instructor and a gun violence prevention advocate have collided. I’m teaching a research and argumentation course in which my primary goal is for my students to understand how to evaluate evidence and use it effectively in advocating for change. 

Imagine my dismay then, as I listened to many members of the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee and House Criminal Justice Committee debate Gov. Bill Lee’s permitless carry bill (HB786/SB765) — which would remove the permit requirement for carrying a hidden, loaded gun in public. I heard logical fallacies galore, claims made without supporting evidence, dubious expert opinion, and outright lies spoken as if they were truths. 

My disbelief continued when I met with a handful of senators and representatives across the great state of Tennessee and heard the same misguided opinions and lies disguised as facts repeated over and over again. 

Today, it’s time to set the record straight about permitless, unregulated carry of firearms. Allow me to share the facts about HB 0786 and SB 765 that many of our elected officials are hiding from us.

Fact: Measures, like permitless carry, that weaken handgun permitting systems lead to higher rates of violent crime. Research shows a 13 to 15 percent increase in violent crime rates and an 11 percent increase in handgun homicide rates after permitless carry becomes law. 

In Tennessee, with an average of 460 Tennesseans already dying from gun homicide each year, that 11 percent increase means even more lives tragically ended each year and  countless more family members’ and friends’ lives forever impacted by an act of violence. 

Fact: Increasing penalties on those found carrying a gun illegally or using a stolen gun to commit a crime –  while not necessarily bad measures — are reactive and punitive, and applied only after a crime has been committed, so they would not help prevent gun violence. In Tennessee, that means action is only taken after another innocent person has been shot and killed or wounded, threatened, or otherwise harmed with a gun. Supporters of the bill who argue that these measures make the bill safer are using a logical fallacy. 

Fact: A broad coalition of law enforcement agencies overwhelmingly oppose permitless carry. The Tennessee Sheriff’s Association, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Chiefs of Police, and many individual police chiefs have spoken out against HB786/SB765. 

In Tennessee, as these professionals have explained–over and over–to our elected officials, without the permit requirement, law enforcement has no way of differentiating between citizens lawfully carrying guns and people carrying guns who are prohibited from doing so by law. This takes away any role that law enforcement might have in preventing gun violence before it happens. 

Fact: Tennesseans overwhelmingly support our current firearm permitting system. Tennesseans don’t want to loosen or revoke the requirement to pass a background check and safety training in order to carry a loaded handgun in public. 

Polling conducted in 2019 by Survey USA on behalf of Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund discovered that 93 percent of recent voters supported requiring a permit to carry a loaded handgun in public — including 92 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of gun-owning households. Additionally, 79 percent of recent voters opposed weakening the safety training currently required under Tennessee law, including 75 percent of Republicans.

Examining these facts leaves me with one burning question. When we consider that permitless carry will likely lead to increased gun violence, and that both law enforcement and the public don’t want it, then why are our elected officials ramming it down our throats? Who is telling them to pursue this at the cost of our lives?

My representative William Lamberth recently thanked the NRA lobbyist after his testimony on this bill. Did he thank the hundreds of citizens who have called him to express their opposition to the bill? Not once. The conclusion I draw is that this bill is proceeding at the behest of the extremist gun lobby, not the people of Tennessee. Don’t let them get away with it. Text TN to 644-33 to be connected to representatives and tell them you oppose HB786/SB765.

(Featured photo by Karen Pulfer Focht.)