Tennesseans may soon no longer need a permit to openly carry a handgun.
The state 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.
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 this bill becomes law, though, a permit would be required only when the handgun is concealed.
“Tennessee’s Constitution permits the legislature to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime,” said Beavers. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Murdock v. Pennsylvania that no state can convert a liberty into a privilege, license it and attach a fee to it. This legislation is in sync with Tennessee’s Constitution and this Supreme Court ruling.”
Beavers told her colleagues that 29 states generally allow a person to carry a handgun openly or in an unconcealed manner without a permit. She said 28 states, “to varying degrees and with varying restrictions, allow a person to posses a loaded gun in a vehicle without a permit. People without handgun carry permits within these states regularly and frequently carry handguns openly and within a vehicle. Such activity has not caused increased danger to public safety or resulted in increased crime.
Currently, carrying a firearm, a knife with a blade longer than 4 inches or a club with the “intent to go armed,” is a punishable offense, but a handgun carry permit is considered a valid defense.
Under the proposed bill, though, it would only be a punishable offense to carry a club with the intent to go armed.
The proposed law also eases handgun carry restrictions for some criminal defendants.
Under existing law, handgun-carry permit holders put on either pretrial diversion or judicial diversion may not carry handguns at all while they are on diversion, during which time they are on supervised probation.
If passed, this law would allow the defendant to openly carry a handgun, but the defendant would not be allowed to carry a concealed handgun.
The defendant would not technically be legally prohibited from owning a handgun during diversion because the conviction would only be recorded if the defendant fails to complete the terms of diversion.
All senators voted “yes” for its passage except Sens. Charlotte Burks, D-Cookeville, and Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, who voted “no,” Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, and Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who pushed their “present, not voting” buttons, and Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville; Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin; Douglas Overbey, R-Maryville, and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, who did not vote at all on the bill.
The Senate postponed a scheduled floor vote on a separate bill that would remove all authority of local governments to regulate guns, including the authority to ban them from local parks. A proposed amendment to the bill, SB 1612, would allow city and county governments to continue to regulate the firing of guns within their jurisdictions and whether their employees and contractors may go armed.
The Senate has already approved a separate bill prohibiting cities and counties from keeping guns carried by permit holders out of local parks but that bill has not won House approval.
Richard Locker of The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) contributed to this report via MCT.