‘Constitutional carry’ restores long-lost right in Tennessee

A bill for constitutional carry wipes away Tennessee’s lawless statute that makes gun ownership a crime but lists exceptions when it's not.

A bill for constitutional carry wipes away Tennessee’s lawless statute that makes gun ownership a crime but lists exceptions when it’s not. (Photo Streettrucksmag.com)

By John Harris

The Second Amendment says that the right of the citizens, a right preexisting the Constitution, “… shall not be infringed …”  Similarly, the Tennessee Constitution in Article I, Section 26, expressly protects the rights of the citizens to keep, bear and wear arms.

Nevertheless,Tennessee continues to infringe that right. Even after six years of total Republican domination your constitutionally protected rights to arms suffer under numerous statutory and regulatory infringements.

Since 1994, Tennessee has had a handgun permitting system.  Most states (29) and all states that touch Tennessee except Georgia do not require permits so long as the individual is openly carrying the firearm.  Several states have complete constitution carry.  Tennessee has a permitting system that is expensive, overpriced and can require as much as 3 days for the average person to complete.

But yet, there is no data to show that this expensive permitting system is keeping criminals from having access to deadly weapons of their choice.  All these laws do is infringe that which the constitution declares “shall not be infringed.”

Presumption of criminality

Tennessee imposes the equivalent of a “poll tax” on the rights of citizens despite that fact that the 2nd Amendment says “… shall not be infringed …”  That infringement has been tolerated by more than half a million Tennesseans but there are some who just cannot afford the equivalent of a “poll tax” on their fundamental right of self-defense.

Worse yet, Tennessee law is presently written from the perspective that it is presumptively a crime for a citizen to carry a firearm.  A citizen technically bears the burden in Tennessee of proving that she fits within an exception to the crime.

It is way past time that the Tennessee infringements end with finality.

In 2015, Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Rick Womick filed a comprehensive bill to reverse Tennessee’s presumption that possession of a firearm is a crime and to replace it with a presumption that citizens, by default, have a right to keep, bear and wear a firearm and that only those who employ the firearm in the commission of a violent crime should be treated as a criminal.

That bill was killed in a House subcommittee.  For most of you, your elected officials never even had a chance to vote on or debate this bill.

Today, however, the Beavers/Womick 2015 Constitutional Carry bill has been refiled. See, SB2273 and HB2146.

In addition, Sen. Mark Green and Rep. Judd Matheny have filed a separate bill that would also implement constitutional carry in Tennessee although the approach is somewhat different.  See, SB1483 and HB1748

Both of these bills preserve the option to obtain optional handgun carry permits which may be important for reciprocity or other purposes.

Haslam opposition set

We can expect that Bill Haslam’s administration will try to defeat these bills.  Once of the tactics that they will use is perhaps the apparent falsification of yet another fiscal impact note.  We might expect some legislators, particularly those working as leadership’s “shadow operatives” to attempt shenanigans in the committee system designed to keep these bills from a full and fair floor debate in which all House and Senator members can represent their constituents.

Knowing that these bills will be attacked by Republican leadership, it is important that you contact your House and Senate members and insist – repeatedly if necessary – that they sign on as sponsors for these bills and that they insist that the committee members vote to send these bills to the floor for debate and consideration.

It is an election year and it is time that these elected officials be held to their oaths.  Some, such as these sponsors, gladly bear the responsibilities of their oaths of office. Others may have other masters to which their loyalties are pledged.  For now, its time for the people of this state to let their voices be heard and demand that Constitutional Carry be enacted in Tennessee in 2016.

If you do not already know your legislators or have their phone and email numbers handy, you can get this information on the Legislature’s “Find my Legislator” page.

John Harris is a founding member of Tennessee Firearms Association in Nashville.

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