Statewide “constitutional carry” law now in effect
At 12:01 am the morning of this issue (July 1, 2021), Tennessee became the 19th state to allow permitless carry of a handgun, what many refer to as “Constitutional Carry”. The lengthy and tedious process of obtaining a state-issued handgun carry permit has been eliminated for most people in Tennessee to legally carry a handgun.
Not so fast, though. While the necessity of possessing a permit to legally carry a handgun has been lifted, that doesn’t mean we’re back in the wild west where anything goes. Before rushing out to your local gun store, there are some considerations, and restrictions still apply, prompting some to declare the law not a “true constitutional carry law”.
The Tennessee Firearms Association considers “constitutional carry” to mean that “…any individual who can legally possess a firearm has the constitutionally protected right to carry that firearm…without any government infringement“ (From a statement on their website, tennesseefirearms.com) and the new permitless carry law does not allow for carte blanche legal firearms carry. The TFA recommends people get or keep a Tennessee Enhanced Handgun Carry Permit rather than relying on the new bill.
Senate Judiciary Chairman, Senator Mike Bell (R, 9th District), noted the bill as not everything he may have wanted but that it was a step further toward those goals. Bell said the General Assembly “…may come back to see how this works in a couple of years and come back and make some changes.”
The TFA expressed concerns that the new law does not address the ambiguous concept of “intent to go armed” and its status as a prosecutable offense. That particular subsection of Tennessee’s Criminal Code is not removed by this law and, as simply read, makes it a crime to carry a weapon – with possession of a handgun carry permit being an acceptable defense.
Other than failing to address that confusion, perhaps the most distinctive restriction is that it only applies to handguns. Rifles, shotguns, or even a handgun with a barrel over 12” are still not allowed to be carried in public. Transporting these types of firearms is lawful, but handling them or presenting them in a manner that they could be used, outside of hunting or sport shooting events, can still get you in trouble.
Representative William Lamberth (R, 44th District), presented the bill to the House Criminal Justice Committee on June 10th noting the bill does not provide make it legal to carry longarms but this bill is “the biggest bite of freedom we can get in one chunk.”
The law makes distinctions, also, on who is allowed to carry a handgun. The lawful carry of a handgun is restricted to adults 21 and over or military members over the age of 18. It further states that a person carrying a handgun must be lawfully in possession of that handgun and must also be in a place where a firearm is allowed. For example, schools and judicial buildings are off-limits for firearms to be lawfully carried under this new law.
Many of the previous restrictions against someone carrying a firearm are very much still in place. According to the amended TCA, it is still unlawful for a person to carry a firearm with the intent to go armed if they: have been convicted of stalking; have been convicted of DUI in the past five years (or twice in the past 10 years – this applies to a DUI received in another state as well); have been adjudicated as being mentally defective; or have been otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal law (although the bill cites the federal restriction “as it existed on January 1, 2021”.)
Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, Jr., also expressed concerns about the permitless carry law. In an interview published in an earlier issue of this newspaper, he said, “The Tennessee Governor signed a new state law allowing for the permitless carry of handguns, effective July 1. However, there is no training required to accompany this law.” Sheriff Bonner is concerned about the lack of education possessed by many who are now able to lawfully carry a handgun. To address this concern, he said “…the sheriff’s office is offering free handgun safety classes, but no live weapons fire. The classes are taught by my certified firearms instructors…the same instructors who teach our deputy sheriffs.” The first of these classes was held on May 22. Those in attendance are taught safe and proper weapons handling techniques, recommended ways to carry and secure a handgun, and specifics from state law about when you can and cannot use deadly force. The classes also address proper handgun safety during interactions with law enforcement.