TFA 2019 Legislative Report

Tennessee Firearms Association’s primary goals for the last few years have been constitutional carry, permitless open carry (a subset of constitutional carry), strengthening civil immunity, and the reduction of the number of gun free zones. There are also other legislative objectives intended to make Tennessee law better.

TFA tracked 67 bills this year. The Legislature enacted 17 of those into law. Of that number, only three are fairly classified as steps forward, albeit very small steps, for Second Amendment interests. Those three either have minimal or no material impact for most Tennesseans.

On the issue of constitutional carry, 17-20 states now have constitutional carry depending on how you read the respective statutes. Some states, for example, only have constitutional carry outside of specific local government jurisdictions or only for their citizens. Yet, constitutional carry rapidly is becoming the norm. Four states that touch Tennessee have enacted constitutional carry (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri). Nationally, three states adopted constitutional carry so far in 2019 – Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Approximately 30 states already have permitless open carry. Generally, constitutional carry and permitless open carry do not require a state permit, a state fee, state required training, or a state conducted background check.

Tennessee has had a Republican super majority in both houses of the Legislature and a Republican governor since the 2011 session – nine years. Both Republican governors made campaign promises to sign constitutional carry legislation. During that time, however, only once has anything close to constitutional carry made it to the floor of either house. That one time was in 2014 when Tennessee Senator Mae Beavers passed a permitless open carry bill (SB2424) by a vote of 25-2 in the Senate.

So, in this the 9th year of Republican total dominion over the state’s public policy and laws, what did pass?  (TFA’s report which identifies each bill and its status is on the TFA Website)

The three laws which are arguably in furtherance of the interests protected by the 2nd Amendment are:

– SB423/HB494 (Sen. Hensley and Rep. Doggett) enacted as Public Chapter 509 effective July 1, 2019, repeals a ten cent per box special tax on ammunition.

– SB446/HB187 (Sen. Bell and Rep. Reedy), enacted as Public Chapter 223 effective July 1, 2019, prohibits local governments from imposing regulations or restrictions on privately owned gun ranges that are greater than the restrictions imposed on ranges in the same jurisdiction that are owned or operated by the government.

– SB594/HB712 (Sen. Roberts and Rep. Faison), enacted as Public Chapter 279 effective May 2, 2019, adopts as part of the state law definition of a “firearm” an exception similar to the federal exception for “antique firearms” which most commonly refers to black powder weapons or muzzleloaders. The adopted law however amended other statutes to state that committing a crime with an “antique firearm” would still be an enhancement factor.

There are a number of other new laws, summarized in the PDF annual summary, which increase certain criminal penalties, makes it a crime to transfer firearms to some individuals, which alter the permitting process slightly, waivers lifetime permit fees (actually makes the taxpayers responsible) for some former law enforcement officers, imposes notice requirements for delinquent offenses, and changes some expunction procedures.

Then there was the legislation to strengthen civil immunity. Several states already have much stronger civil immunity laws than does Tennessee. TFA has been pushing to a) strengthen civil immunity protections for those forced to resort to self defense and b) to require law enforcement to take into consideration whether a circumstance involved a justifiable self-defense and avoid criminal charges unless it is clear that it was not a justifiable self defense situation. That bill was killed in a House subcommittee.

Finally, the blunder of the session. The Legislature adopted a second category of permit – a concealed only permit. SB705/HB1264 (Sen. Stevens and Rep. Holt) was enacted as Public Chapter 479 and effective January 1, 2020. TFA opposed this bill as poorly written, poor policy and likely a stonewall to the near term passage of true constitutional carry. Proponents argued it was needed because it provided a less expensive option with a slightly reduced training requirement.

The bill does the following:

– It keeps the existing Tennessee handgun carry permit but renames it an “enhanced handgun carry permit”. The law adds no enhancements to the existing permit – it is merely a new name. Those who have or who obtain in the future the “enhanced” permit will see no changes as a result of this law (other than perhaps the loss of one or more reciprocity states).

– As with the enhanced permit, the applicant for the “concealed only” permit must apply to the Department of Safety on a permit application that the department will design; they must show proof of identify and state residency; they must meet all the requirements of TCA 39-17-1351(b) and (c) for the issuance of the “enhanced” permit; they must provide the department with two sets of fingerprints just as required by TCA 39-17-1351(d); and they must provide proof of “competence with a handgun” which may be shown by completing one of several enumerated categories of classes such as a hunter safety course including potentially a “to be developed” online course that is at least 90 minutes in length, includes a test, and coveys knowledge of firearms safety rules, handgun uses, features, basic skills, safe cleaning, transportation, storage and “current state law on carrying handguns”. Most of these requirements are the same as for the current “enhanced” permit. The new training options could require courses that are longer or shorter than the current required 8 hour course. No range training is required although the concealed permit statute does appear to be poorly written because it requires proof of “competence with a handgun” although none of the training options appear to require it.

– The concealed only permit is an 8 year permit at a cost of $65. There is no lifetime option and there are no discounts or “freebies” for special classes of citizens. In contrast, the enhanced permit is $100 for an 8 year permit, there is a lifetime option and some classes of individuals get reduced or free “enhanced” permits.

– The renewal fee for the concealed only permit is not stated in the statute. Presumably it will also be $65 to renew. The renewal fee for the “enhanced” permit is $50.

– There is no “grace period” for renewals of the concealed only permit. The grace period of the enhanced permit is 8 years so a person can renew it after expiration for up to 8 years without having to take the class or submit new fingerprints.

– There is no definition in the statute for what constitutes “concealed”. Furthermore, there is no provision in the statute which makes clear (as in some other states) that an “accidental exposure” is not a crime.

– The concealed only permit is not allowed in all circumstances where the enhanced permit is valid.

– The concealed only permit does not appear to have been included in the provisions of Title 70 which were amended in 2010 to allow hunters who had the permits issued under TCA 39-17-1351 to have a handgun in their possession even if the handgun was not a legal weapon at the time for hunting (e.g., during archery season).

In addition to the foregoing considerations that make the concealed only permit a bad idea when Tennessee already had a handgun permit, it is likely that the passage of this 2nd class of permit will result in losing one or more reciprocity states. It is also expected that the passage of this second permit system may also result in a material delay and stonewalling in the ongoing efforts to pass true constitutional carry in Tennessee.

The proponents of the concealed only permit argued that it was good because, according to one sponsor, it provided a ” less costly, less burdensome permit” option for Tennesseans. In fact, however, the concealed permit is only $35 less expensive over a span of 8 years and it still requires a training course which, depending on the course, could take about as much time as the existing permit training requirement. It also still requires making time to physically go to the Department of Safety to apply, to be photographed, and to go somewhere else to have the two sets of fingerprints made. So if the goal was truly a more affordable less burdensome permit, why did the Legislature not just reduce the fee on the existing permit by $35 and simplify the training requirements (particularly since many states have no fee or training requirements!).

Indeed, the Legislature’s own fiscal estimate on this new “concealed only” permit was that perhaps 398 citizens, statewide, annually might get this concealed only permit who would not have gotten the original permit. Over 600,000 people have already obtained the standard original permit, and somehow the Legislature is estimating that less than 400 people might take this new option but there are no clear reasons given as to why that is the case or where this made up number came from.

TFA stands by its analysis that this was an unneeded, poorly written, poor policy choice that was adopted to avoid putting constitutional carry on the floor for a debate and a vote as other states have done. Perhaps it was done because the issue of constitutional carry was on Speaker Casada’s “kill list” or a similar list perhaps from someone else holding a lot of political power. Ultimately, all this bill really does is give many legislators – who would not support constitutional carry – the ability to claim in their 2020 re-election bids that they supported a Second Amendment law in Tennessee.

John Harris

Executive Director

 

Joining and supporting TFA is an investment in the fight to restore our constitutional rights and to fight against politicians who are willing to sell their votes and your rights to whichever business interest gives them the most money!

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