The state Senate overwhelmingly approved a permit-less handgun carry bill Thursday, setting the stage for law-abiding Tennesseans to go armed without a background check or basic weapon training.
Senators voted 23-9 to pass the bill, sending the measure to the House of Representatives to consider, despite opposition from law enforcement across the state. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association and other groups such as Moms Demand Action opposed the bill throughout the process.
Still, it moved through the Senate and early stages of the House committee process with relative ease.
“This is a bill now, as amended, that recognizes a fundamental right in our constitution that allows a person to carry a handgun without permission from the state,” said Sen. Mike Bell, a Riceville Republican who ferried the measure through the Senate for Gov. Bill Lee.
Bell told senators of an effort by a gun group to derail the legislation by telling his constituents it contained a “Dianne Feinstein” amendment, in reference to the U.S. senator who opposes such handgun measures. The bill applies to people 21 and over, in addition to those active or retired military or who serve in the National Guard or Reserve.
The amendment contains a provision prohibiting people from carrying without a permit if they’ve been convicted of stalking, one DUI within the last five years, two DUIs within the last decade or found to be mentally defective.
Still, the measure allows people who are otherwise eligible to carry handguns without undergoing a background check and as long as they are doing so in a place where handguns are allowed. Private businesses such as restaurants and bars are allowed to continue prohibiting weapons.
The Senate rejected another amendment by Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat, who sought to have the state pay the cost of handgun permits, which cost $100 for an enhanced fee with a $65 application fee and $50 for renewals. More than 716,000 people hold state permits.
Bell pointed out Yarbro’s amendment would force the bill to go back through the committee system because of the cost it would pose to the state.
In the first year, the bill is expected to cut state revenue by $2.6 million plus another $594,600 to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, $203,300 in local revenue and increase state expenditures for incarceration by $12.3 million.
Besides allowing people to avoid getting a permit, the bill increases penalties for people who commit crimes with firearms, makes it a Class E felony for theft of a firearm from a car guaranteeing 180 days in jail, and increases sentences for possession by violent felons and allowing juveniles to possess handguns.
Yarbro pointed out Tennessee ranks among the highest in the nation for gun violence, including deaths of children from careless use of guns.
“It’s an immense responsibility to go armed among your fellow citizens, and this doesn’t take that seriously,” Yarbro said.
Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell of Nashville told senators 83% of Tennesseans oppose the legislation.
“There aren’t many things Tennesseans agree on, but this is one of them,” Campbell said.
Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat, argued that not only can people forgo safety requirements but they don’t have to prove they’re sane or have avoided DUIs.
“I think this is such an unnecessary and dangerous move for us as a state,” Akbari said.
Still, some gun rights advocates have said the bill is not “true constitutional carry” because it doesn’t allow people 18 and over to go armed without a permit.
Sen. Kerry Roberts, a Springfield Republican, supported passage of the bill and urged the Senate to keep working “until we restore true constitutional carry.”