Tennessee governor backs permitless carry legislation

Published 9:17 am Friday, February 28, 2020

NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday came out in full support of allowing most people in the state to carry a firearm in public without a background check or training.

Lee says his administration will soon introduce legislation allowing “permitless carry” to take effect in Tennessee.

Also known as “constitutional carry” by supporters, Lee says the proposal would allow most adults 21 and older to carry firearms, concealed or openly, without a license that currently requires a background check and training.

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“The liberties guaranteed to us by the Constitution are sacred. We have a responsibility to uphold the framework that those founding fathers established,” Lee said, flanked by dozens of Republican lawmakers.

“They firmly believed that to protect those unalienable rights that they set out they needed to ensure citizens had a right to bear arms, which was cemented in the Second Amendment,” Lee added.

If approved, Tennessee would join 16 other states that currently have some sort of permitless carry, according to the National Rifle Association lobbying arm — which is in favor of Lee’s proposal.

Copies of the legislation were not provided to reporters as of Thursday. Early cost estimates hover around $20 million, but those details are still being finalized by the Legislature’s fiscal review.

A separate piece of Lee’s Thursday announcement included stricter penalties for stealing firearms, including increasing incarceration sentences for stealing a gun from a car, providing a handgun to a minor and unlawful possession of a handgun by a felon.

“If you’re a criminal inside the state of Tennessee and you’re not supposed to have a gun, my suggestion is don’t have one on you,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican from Crossville.

Lee’s announcement was immediately met with resistance by Democratic lawmakers and gun safety activists.

“The governor proposes to endanger every child, every law enforcement officer in Tennessee for no other reason than to score political points with his most right-wing administration,” said Rep. Mike Stewart, a Democrat from Nashville.

Stewart later described permitless carry as “the worst” idea Lee had backed since taking over the executive office last year.

Meanwhile, the Moms Demand Action group — which advocates gun reform legislation and safety — pointed out that the state’s rate of gun deaths has increased by 18% over the past 10 years.

“It’s common sense that if you’re going to carry a concealed gun in public, you should pass a background check and make sure you know how to handle it,” said Leeann Hewlett, volunteer leader with the Tennessee chapter.