Senate panel clears path to lower permitless gun-carry age to 18

‘Long guns’ removed from legislation, setting up showdown with House

Staff file photo / Shooter's Supply indoor range is seen on April 22, 2021, in Hixson.
Staff file photo / Shooter's Supply indoor range is seen on April 22, 2021, in Hixson.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday to drop the permitless gun-carry age to 18 from 21, aligning Tennessee with a pending court order.

The panel endorsed the legislation by Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, on a 7-2 vote after amending the measure to exclude "long guns." Removal of rifles from the legislation puts it in conflict with the House version of the bill and could force a compromise.

Stevens, an attorney, argued that the right to bear arms is not granted by the government.

"It's something we're born with as Americans, and it's to be preserved. It's for self-defense. That's not a right we're given, it's a right we have, we're given it by God alone," Stevens said. "We have to protect life, and that's consistent. It's our number one duty as legislators."

(READ MORE: Tennessee senator sidelines gun-carry bill that worried businesses, continues 2nd bill opposed by law enforcement)

The bill passed along party lines with Democratic Sen. London Lamar contending that 18-year-olds shouldn't be given the right to carry weapons, especially without a state permit.

"We are killing people in our community by expanding access to guns. Homicide rates in our state are increasing," said Lamar, D-Memphis. "We are leading the nation at killing folks and we are passing irresponsible legislation that allows 18-year-olds to have access to guns when they can't even drink 'til they're 21."

Firearms Policy Coalition Inc. of California sued the state in April 2021 when the legislature passed the permitless carry law, arguing it was unconstitutional because it didn't apply to the 18-to-20 age group. The law also allows active-duty military and those who've been discharged to carry, even if they're under 21.

(READ MORE: Tennessee settles lawsuit over 18- to 20-year-olds and guns)

Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti entered a written agreement with the plaintiffs, drawing criticism from some lawmakers that he enabled state law to be changed by the judiciary branch. The East Tennessee U.S. District Court judge hearing the case recently signed off on the deal.

Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long said Tuesday the state is prepared to enforce the new order once a 90-day waiting period lapses.

The department did not oppose the measure in Tuesday's meeting.