From Bill Freeman

We do not live in a lawless frontier, but you can’t tell that from the actions of Gov. Bill Lee or the Tennessee General Assembly.

Gov. Lee is pushing legislation, which has already passed in the Senate and in the House, that would allow anyone over 21 to pack a pistol, anywhere, anytime. Senate Bill 765/House Bill 786 allows permitless carrying of handguns for anyone over age 21, and for military personnel between 18 and 20. 

According to police and some local officials across Tennessee, this is a bad idea.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is opposed to the legislation. TBI senior policy adviser Jimmy Musice testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that 63,000 Tennesseans are considered “mentally defective,” and that nearly 5,500 people were excluded from permits or had their permits revoked in 2020. Musice testified that the TBI has no issue with allowing people who are legally permitted to carry a firearm. “We think … the permit process allows us to actually do that by knowing if that person is lawful,” Musice said. The current permit process enables law enforcement officials to screen applicants for dangerous individuals, undocumented immigrants, felons or people with mental health issues. 

The Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association and the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police also oppose the bill. As reported by WZTV, law enforcement has come out against the bill in part because the permitting system helps them track a firearm if it is stolen and used in a crime. 

Further, the bill does not require any hands-on training on how to handle a firearm, which the current law does require. Brant Williams — the founder of gun store Frontier Firearms — said that while he supports the legislation, “It’s frightening how many [people are] coming here with a total misconception about how they can safely use a firearm, legally use a firearm in self-defense.”

Unsurprisingly, there are concerns over who might own a gun, and with no training required, how an owner may use it. A recent report from The New York Times notes the following:

  • Gun violence kills roughly 40,000 Americans a year. 
  • America has a greater problem with gun violence than other countries because of our “unique gun availability.” “It’s not just that every other high-income country in the world has many fewer guns and many fewer gun deaths,” reports the Times. “It’s also that U.S. states with fewer guns — like California, Illinois, Iowa and much of the Northeast — have fewer gun deaths. And when state or local governments have restricted gun access, deaths have often declined.”
  • More than half of gun deaths are suicides, and about one of every 400 gun deaths results from a mass shooting. Policies like requiring licensing and background checks would likely affect both.
  • “Public opinion is complicated,” but “an overwhelming majority of Americans support many gun-regulation proposals — like background checks — that congressional Republicans have blocked. And, yes, the campaign donations of the National Rifle Association influence the debate.” 

The Times article also states that the “main reason members of Congress feel comfortable blocking gun control is that most Americans don’t feel strongly enough about the issue to change their votes because of it.” I don’t know about that. I believe Americans want safe neighborhoods, safe households, a change for the better. But “safe” depends greatly on the laws we pass.

Think of the families who just lost their loved ones in mass shootings in Atlanta and Colorado. I wonder what those family members think of when they read about permitless gun carrying. Do they wonder why any state or governor would want more guns in the hands of people whose mental well-being and criminal history are unknown? Or a law that severely limits tracking a weapon’s use in a crime? Last week, Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings said: “Our state representatives are, to me, on a very scary road to pass permitless carry. I’m just very alarmed that our state legislature is poised to pass permitless carry and our governor is waving around like there’s a victory lap to be taken and I think it’s actually catastrophic.” 

“Catastrophic.” I agree. 

As reported by New Scientist and others, people who carry guns are far more likely to be shot than people who are unarmed. If this legislation is signed into law, more people will likely carry a gun — and the results could be catastrophic.

This is extremely bad legislation.

Bill Freeman

Bill Freeman is the owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus, the Nashville Post and Home Page Media Group in Williamson County.

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