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Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee is best positioned to continue the progress Tennessee has made in the last eight years. (David Crigger/The Bristol Herald-Courier via AP)

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Karl Dean doubled down Monday on his opposition to passage of a "constitutional carry" or permitless gun carry law, saying that while he supports gun rights, he also believes Tennessee's existing "common-sense regulations" for permit holders are needed.

"I know most Tennesseans support the Second Amendment. I support the Second Amendment, too. I'm not trying to take anybody's guns away," said Dean, a former Nashville mayor and before that Davidson County's longtime public defender.

But drawing a contrast with Republican rival Bill Lee, who backs permitless carry, Dean said during an early voting swing through Chattanooga that "if everybody can carry a weapon, how can there be any control?"

Lee, meanwhile, sought to clarify his position on the issue, telling reporters after a rural West Tennessee event in Paris that, "I've said we ought to take away the fees for permits. I don't think we ought to have to pay a fee for what is a constitutional right.

"If the Legislature brought a bill to me for permitless carry I've have said I would sign it," Lee added.

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Democratic former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean speaks during the final gubernatorial debate at Belmont University Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, Pool)

Asked if he would sign a bill that does away with requirements in Tennessee's existing handgun carry permit law that applicants undergo criminal background checks and take a handgun training course, Lee said, "it depends on the bill itself.

"But that's not been an issue I've led on," the Williamson County businessman and political newcomer said. "I've just been asked if a bill came across my desk would I sign it. And certainly, the details of the bill would be important. If that's what the people and the legislature agree upon, then I would do that."

On a portion of Lee's campaign website labeled "Your Right to Bear Arms," Lee says in a section titled "Constitutional Carry" that "You shouldn't have to pay a fee to exercise your constitutional rights. I'd work with the legislature on any proposal where we can expand your constitutional rights, and I'll sign legislation to make it happen."

Dean said, "I realize the position of the legislature. What they were considering last session was weakening gun laws. If everybody can carry a weapon, how can there be any control?"

He said, "I think most people agree that there's nothing wrong with keeping guns away from dangerous people."

The "constitutional carry" legislation is one of several firearms issues where Dean and Lee differ in their Nov. 6 contest that Lee now leads, according to a number of polls.

For example, Lee favors allowing willing, properly trained educators to go armed in the state's public schools. Noting banks and governors have security staff, Lee says on his website that "we leave our children defenseless in gun-free zones. We should absolutely allow a qualified and vetted teacher to make the choice to be a part of the solution."

Dean opposes that, saying safety should be provided by specially trained school resource officers or retired law enforcement officers to protect against rampages like last February's shootings at a Parkland Fla., high school that killed 17 students and others.

Asked where the money would come from, Dean said, "If it represents an expenditure by the state, it's an expenditure that's worth paying."

Lee also supports allowing college students to go armed on campus. Dean says, "it's just the wrong position."

After a Memphis debate earlier this month, Lee was asked by a reporter about whether people convicted of domestic violence should be allowed to keep their firearms.

"We need to not approach that," Lee said at the time. "We need to approach the person with the domestic violence, in addressing that, rather than taking away their guns."

Asked about that on Monday, Lee said he thought the question "was about expanding on domestic violence [restrictions]. But we have laws in this state currently that are pretty strict for those who have been accused of or convicted of [domestic violence]. I just don't think we need to expand on those restrictions."

Asked whether he thought current law has sufficient protections, Lee said, "I do."

As Dean visited a Chattanooga early voting site and spoke about gun issues, a group of women wearing "Moms Demand Action on Gun Sense" T-shirts welcomed his words.

Though much of the gun discussion concerns the U.S. Constitution and federal law, Jill Weitz noted that states have their own laws. And proposals such as stronger background checks, regulating or banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines have strong support, Weitz added.

"You just have to apply them in very small steps because they're very big issues," she said. "You don't just want blanket laws."

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

Contact Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

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