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Tennessee lawmakers consider ‘true’ constitutional carry bill

Published: Mar. 28, 2022 at 6:07 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee lawmakers are considering a bill that supporters call “true constitutional carry.”

But law enforcement agencies across Tennessee are speaking out against the bill, warning it could jeopardize officers and public safety.

Tennessee passed a law last year allowing most adults to carry a handgun, openly or concealed, without a permit.

Many people referred to the law as constitutional carry.

But that’s not how some gun rights advocates say they would refer to it.

“The bill that passed last year, although it was called constitutional carry, really isn’t,” said John Harris, the executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

Harris says that’s because Tennessee law is structured in a way that makes it technically illegal to possess a loaded firearm, or “intent to go armed.”

“It’s a crime for anybody to carry a firearm with the intent to go armed and most states don’t have that type of language,” Harris said.

He says laws like the one that passed last year simply provide an “exception” or “defense” that citizens would have to prove in court if they were charged with a crime.

“You would have to prove at trial that you were over 21, that you were in a place you had a right to be, that it was a handgun as opposed to something else,” said Harris. “That’s not real constitutional carry.”

Real constitutional carry, he says, means citizens being able to carry any firearm they legally possess without any government interference.

That’s what he says House Bill 2524, which is sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, would allow.

But law enforcement groups like the Tennessee Department of Public Safety, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association oppose the bill for a variety of reasons.

“The bill as drafted would impact law enforcement safety and public safety,” said Patrick Powell with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

“It opens it up to carry any firearm not just restricted to a handgun as a current law does,” said commissioner Jeff Long with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

They say it would also let stalkers, the mentally ill, and people convicted of DUI and domestic assault carry guns.

Sexton said that was not his intent.

“Our intent is to just make us more in line with the Second Amendment,” said Sexton, signaling he would be fine with an amendment to provide clarity.

Sexton also added an amendment clarifying that the bill would apply to people at least 18 years old in response to law enforcement concerns that children would be allowed to carry guns.

Harris accuses law enforcement agencies of using the same type of arguments they’ve used in the past against other gun rights bills.

“They’ve made the same arguments every time the legislature is asked to make us more compliant with what the Second Amendment requires and every time their prophecy about the doom and gloom that would occur if the legislature did it has just turned out to be false,” said Harris.

The bill will be discussed before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday.

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