Press Release from the Tennessee Firearms Association, May 3, 2019:
Legislature Adjourns after ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Session: Creates Unnecessary 2nd Class of ‘Concealed Only’ Permit
General Assembly passed bad bills and refused to consider constitutional carry
By John Harris
TFA Executive Director
The Tennessee Legislature adjourned from the first half of its two year session on May 2, 2019. Did the Republican super majority of “2nd Amendment supporting” legislators do great things to remove the infringements on the 2nd Amendment in Tennessee this year? No.
To the contrary, it demonstrated an absolute unwillingness to even put the major issues like constitutional carry, civil immunity, criminal investigative requirements, school carry and others on the floors of the respective houses for even the slightest debate!
This is not the TFA’s annual report but it is a summary of the bills that were active this week. The annual report will come later after the dust settles and we know for sure which bills become law and which might be vetoed.
Increased focus week was on a bill (Senate Bill 705 House Bill 1264) that was sponsored in the Senate by noted “anti” 2nd Amendment Senator John Stevens. Sen. Stevens earned that reputation over the years by, for example, being perhaps the swing vote that killed Sen. Mark Green’s constitutional carry legislation in 2016. This bill proposed initially to create a second class of handgun permit that was concealed only and good for only five years. It would have been free to the applicant but would have cost the taxpayers about $1 million per year for the Department of Safety to process. It would not have all the same carry locations that the existing permit had. Also, it would require less training – such as the hunter safety course or any NRA course.
The “concealed only” bill was amended in many ways. The length was changed from 5 to 8 years. The cost went from ZERO to the applicant to an application fee of $65 (contrasted with the $100 fee for the standard handgun permit that allows open or concealed carry). There are no discounts for certain categories of individuals. There are no lifetime permits. The applicant still has to submit two sets of fingerprints (which are outsourced to a third party) and be photographed. It is not available to 18-20 year old individuals who are in or retired military. It is not good on school grounds (existing permits are under limited circumstances). The training went from just a simple almost anything course to at least a 90 minute course which includes a written test and which also – in that 90 minutes – in the opinion of the Department of Safety “”conveys the basic knowledge and skills necessary for safe handling and storage of firearms and ammunition and includes firearm safety rules, handgun uses, features, basic skills and techniques, safe cleaning, transportation, and storage methods and … conveys the current state law on carrying handguns”. According to Senator Stevens statements on the Senate Floor on May 2, no such course presently exists.
The Senate debates on May 2 are worth watching and begin at approximately 1 hour into the session.
Here are some highlights.
- Sen. Stevens claimed the existing permit is not changed (other than its name – its now the “enhanced” permit but with no new enhancements this year). He claimed this bill makes the new concealed only permit less expensive and easier to get because of reduced number of hours required for the training (8 hours versus 1.5 hours).
- Sen. Jeff Yarbro asked “how is concealed defined” (it is not). Sen. Stevens said “it is not changed from current law” which does not have a definition.
- Sen. Yarbro asked if the concealed permits have the same “rights” as the current permits. Sen. Stevens said not with respect to “higher education” (an incomplete answer since it omits school employees who can carry with the existing permit and it fails to deal with the exceptions under the wildlife resources acts).
- Sen. Yarbro pointed out that he has on two occasions in the last two days taken online courses in less than 3 minutes that would generate the required certificates. Sen. Stevens said that an applicant who did that would be subject to felony perjury charges (but no explanation on how that would be determined or enforced).
- Sen. Yarbro objected about all the confusion and risks that the second permitting system creates for citizens and reciprocity issues.
- Sen. Stevens said that there is not a single course online that presently complies with the training requirements of the law (because of the training on existing Tennessee laws that is required)
- Sen. Janice Bowling argued against the bill and asserted that the state should be adopting Constitutional Carry. She argued correctly if its the “cost” then we should reduce the cost of the existing permit. She argued that the potential confusion of a 2 permit system rather than constitutional carry is of no advantage. She also said she has talked to her constituents and they are objecting to the “concealed permit” which she attributed to an unnamed “organization” (it was not TFA). She argued it has no wisdom, benefit and that she would vote no.
- Sen. Kerry Roberts (who voted for it in Judiciary) said he was bothered that that they were talking about a second permit rather than constitutional carry. He objected that they were passing a law to force citizens to “buy back their constitutional right”. He pointed out that 16 states already have constitutional carry and Kentucky just adopted it. He stated he was struggling to understand why Tennessee is not passing constitutional carry rather than a “convoluted” second permitting system.
- Sen. Paul Bailey said he agreed with Sen. Roberts that Tennessee should be talking about constitutional carry (although he later voted for the bill).
- Sen. Mike Bell said he agreed with constitutional carry and “it’s coming.” He then moved to cutoff off debate and, despite his statement, voted for the bill.
18 Senators ignored the calls for constitutional carry and moved forward to pass the unnecessary, confusing second “concealed only” permit. These Senators were Bailey, Bell, Crowe, Gardenhire, Gresham, Hensley, Johnson, Kelsey, Lundberg. Powers, Reeves, Rose, Southerland, Stevens, Swann, Watson, White and Yager. That is an odd mixture of individuals who frequently vote against 2nd Amendment bills (Stevens, Kelsey, Lundberg) and some who typically do.
Senators voting no on the bill were Akbari, Bowling, Dickerson, Gilmore, Jackson, Kyle, Massey, Nicely, Pody, Robinson and Yarbro – again an odd mix but some of the 2nd Amendment most consistent supporters were in this group and we believe for the right reasons! Two senators were “present not voting” – Roberts and McNally. Two appear to have been agent Briggs and Haile.
TFA noted that it was a bad bill for many reasons. Most of those reasons were addressed by Senators Bowling, Roberts and Yarbro.
Now, some who identify as 2nd Amendment supporters have defended their “yes” votes by suggesting that this was a necessary “step” toward constitutional carry. Enacting a law that creates confusion, risks and delay is “necessary” or even a step in the right direction? That is not a credible excuse nor is it consistent with the campaign promises or constitutional oaths of office. What it evidences is in fact an unwillingness to actually run and pass constitutional carry, as 17 states including Kentucky have done, despite the fact that the Republican caucus is a super majority and it could do so even if every Democrat voted against it.
Comments on other bills this week…
The legislature passed a handful of other laws at the last minute which TFA has been tracking but none are truly significant toward removing infringements or establishing protections of our 2nd Amendment protected rights. For example, the legislature passed a technical fix to adopt the substantial equivalent of the federal “antique firearm” exception to the definition of a firearm under Tennessee for some purposes. It also removed an excise tax on ammunition which removed a projected $455,000 from the Wildlife Resources Fund annually (likely to be replaced with taxpayer revenue from the general fund).
The bill status report and the bill calendar can be accessed through the TFA’s website: https://tennesseefirearms.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TFA-BillReport-2019-05-03.pdf