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Local top cops balk at gun bill

Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:19 PM

Two of Wilson County’s top law enforcement officers said Thursday they have significant concerns about a bill that passed the state Senate that would allow citizens to openly carry a gun without a permit. 

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow residents not legally prohibited from possessing a gun to carry a handgun in plain view.

Senate Bill 2424, sponsored by Wilson County Republican Mae Beavers, passed 25-2 with virtually no debate. The bill’s compliment, HB 2409, was placed on the last calendar Tuesday by the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee and still must have the full House and Gov. Bill Haslam’s approval before it would become law. 

State law currently requires gun owners to obtain a handgun carry permit, whether they carry the gun openly or concealed. Prerequisites for a permit include training on firearm safety by a certified instructor, a criminal background check and a $115 fee.

If the bill becomes law, though, a permit would be required only when the handgun is concealed.

Both Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan and Lebanon police Chief Scott Bowen said Thursday they could see some big challenges the proposed law would create. 

“This legislation is of major concern to me, as well as law enforcement across the state,” Bryan said. “In no way am I against a person’s right to have a firearm, and I am very supportive of the Second Amendment, but unrestricted open carry by people who are not trained or vetted for any type of criminal background jeopardizes the safety of law enforcement and the entire community. The Handgun Carry Permit System in place now works and it allows law-abiding citizens to carry firearms, and I will continue to support it.”

Bowen agreed, and said the biggest issue is public safety. 

“Passage of legislation on openly carrying a firearm without a permit is of concern as there may be unintended consequences that could jeopardize the safety of our citizens,” Bowen said. “Current law provides for permits to carry firearms either openly or concealed.  Through this process, public safety is served through qualification and basic instruction, as well as screening for those with criminal histories prohibiting the possession of firearms. This system is effective.”

Bryan said the potential law change would serve as an enabler for criminals. 

“This legislation will put guns in the hands of the wrong people, not the law abiding citizens of this county,” Bryan said. “This bill doesn’t require a permit if you choose to openly carry your firearm.  It does not require background checks and doesn’t require any training. It is another attempt to tie law enforcements’ hands and to jeopardize the safety of the public.”

Bowen said it would make police and other law enforcement officers’ jobs harder. 

“No legitimate purpose is served by permitting those not qualified under the permit process the opportunity to carry a firearm uninhibited simply by virtue of wearing it openly,” Bowen said.

”This bill doesn’t require a permit if you choose to openly carry your firearm, it doesn’t require a background check, and doesn’t require a handgun safety course either.

“Law enforcement won’t be able to question someone openly carrying, even if you think they may be unlawfully carrying.  You have to have probable cause. Gang members, drug dealers, etc. will able to intimidate communities by openly carrying.

“Those in pre-trail diversion, those with a domestic violence violation, and/or those with a mental health issue could carry openly without the permit process currently in place although they could not obtain a concealed carry permit by statute.  This because there is no process in place to verify whether or not they are legally able to openly carry.”

Bowen said the issue is simply to keep the law the way it is and not change it. 

“Let me clearly state that I am not against a person’s right to have a firearm. I am very supportive of the Second Amendment, but I am against unrestricted open carry by persons who have not been properly trained or had a background check completed. A balance between safety for all citizens and gun owners is my goal and focus.”

A 2012 report by the Tennessee Department of Public Safety and Homeland Security said the state received more than $7.65 million in revenue from handgun permits issued. Bowen said the bill would significantly lower that amount if it were passed. 

“With the requirement lifted for those carrying a gun to also have a permit, it’s almost certain many will opt for the free route and carry in open rather than get a permit for a concealed weapon,” Bowen said. “This will certainly have an impact on money the state receives for gun permits.”

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