The Tennessee Firearms Association recommends that people get or keep the Tennessee enhanced handgun permit rather than relying on the Governor’s new permitless carry bill that goes into effect on July 1, 2021. Here are the details underlying that advice.
By John Harris / president, Tennessee Firearms Association
On February 27, 2020, Governor Bill Lee took the podium at the Tennessee capitol and announced that he was filing a a bill to implement constitutional carry in Tennessee. Governor Lee stated that “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….” Many legislators stood approvingly with the Governor during that announcement.
At the time of the announcement, the TFA was cautiously excited to hear that the Governor was going to introduce legislation to implement constitutional carry particularly since the Republican controlled Legislature had indicated no prior interest in doing so. However, the actual language of the Governor’s bill was not publicly available at that time of his public announcement. It was important to see the details of what the Governor was actually proposing.
When the language of the Governor’s 2020 bill became available, it was clear that the bill was not true constitutional carry. By mid-March, the Covid shutdowns started and the bill did not move forward in 2020. The legislation was refiled in 2021 again as one of Governor Lee’s “administration” bills. (SB765/HB786) It took much the same form as in 2020 and both TFA and two national gun rights organizations called for amendments to the permitless carry proposal. It was enacted into law, without necessary amendments, as Public Chapter 108. The new law goes into effect on July 1, 2021.
Gov. Lee bill not real thing
Before examining the details of Governor Lee’s hallmark 2nd Amendment law, it is important to define what the term “constitutional carry” means. For TFA, real constitutional carry means that any individual who can legally possess a firearm has the constitutionally protected right to carry that firearm on substantially all publicly owned properties without any government infringement.
Its is that simple because it is what the 2nd Amendment clearly prohibits – government infringement of the right of the “people” – all of the people – to keep and bear “arms”. Based on the 2nd Amendment’s reference to the militia, it is clear that the right protected by the 2nd Amendment at a minimum includes anyone and everyone who is subject to the state’s militia call which includes at least those 18 and up.
Based on the 2nd Amendment’s reference to the term “arms” rather than handguns, the right extends to all arms within the scope of the 2nd Amendment and not just those deemed worthy or unoffensive by the Governor and his Legislative supporters.
Governor Lee’s law is not real constitutional carry. It simply does not fit the definition. It perpetuates and creates new infringements on the constitutionally protected right of citizens. It is another statutory exception to a criminal charge under Tenn. Code Annotated § 39-17-1307(a) for carrying a firearm with the intent to go armed. It does not apply to everyone who can legally possess a firearm.
It infringes the right, even for those who do fit within its conditions, by further limiting its application to handguns only. It is only a qualified exception to an existing criminal charge that itself infringes the right that the 2nd Amendment declares is beyond the control or authority of government.
Backers say law not constitutional carry
Several legislators who voted for this law nevertheless made statements supporting the conclusion that it is not real constitutional carry. On March 2, 2021 in the Senate Judiciary hearings, Senate Judiciary Chairman Senator Mike Bell made comment which noted that the bill was a “permitless carry” bill that was not everything that he may have wanted but that it did move the “ball further down the field”. He observed that and that the Legislature “may come back to see how this works in a couple of years and come back and make some changes.”