Controversial Tennessee bill allowing handgun permit applicants to forego live training for video goes to governor

Tennesse State Capitol tennessee senate state government building / Getty Images

NASHVILLE - Tennesseans seeking a newly created state-issued "concealed carry" permit would be able to forgo live firearm training and instead watch an online 90-minute video and pass a test under a controversial bill headed to Gov. Bill Lee's desk.

Senators today gave final approval to the previously passed House Bill 1264 on an 18-11 vote.

The bill, backed by the National Rifle Association, would change Tennessee's existing handgun-carry permit law where 631,430 adult men and women ages 21 and older currently have state-issued permits that allow them to carry a handgun either openly or concealed in public.

But that's only after they pay to take an eight-hour live training course from certified instructors, undergo a criminal background check and pay a $100 permit fee. The bill just passed would still allow those who completed the live training course to carry openly or concealed at the same cost.

Those seeking to join the new class of conceal-carry permit would be issued a certificate of complete which they would submit to the state Department of Safety to qualify for a conceal permit.

During debate, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said he went to one online permit website, began watching the video, then quickly skipped the rest of it and went to a five-question test and could have gotten a certificate.

Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, the bill's sponsor, said the state would create its own video.

Those obtaining the new conceal carry permit would not be able to carry their firearm on a college campus.

Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, who was dubbed the "Pistol Packin' Mama" during a prior congressional campaign, questioned the legislation because she supports the live training.

"I think everyone should go through that," she said. "There's one thing to think you know what to do and another to be trained," she said.

Several lawmakers weren't happy with the measure because they would prefer "constitutional carry" in which people don't need handgun carry permits.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who supported the bill, said in response to their questions "that for those expressing support for constitutional carry, it's coming."

He voted for the bill as did Sens. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

During his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Lee voiced support for the gun-related legislation including constitutional carry.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.