If Gov. Bill Lee and the National Rifle Association have their way, Tennessee will become a state that might as well make its new label something like, "Tennessee — where we let you shoot first, and we'll ask questions later."
We're not joking.
Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday announced he will push legislation to allow most adult Tennesseans to carry handguns without having to undergo training or criminal background checks.
You read that right. Get your gun and carry it — in the open or concealed — with no permit, no training and no background check.
And, by the way, if you bought your gun (or buy this weekend, all quite legally, thanks to a "loophole") at a gun show or from a friend, you didn't (or won't) have to get a background check or training, either. So the argument that "legal" gun-owners are already checked and trained (or will be) is bogus.
The governor characterized the proposed "permitless carry" measure — also known as "constitutional carry" — as being "about increasing freedom for Tennesseans" while also increasing jail time for criminals who misuse guns and steal weapons.
Tennessee and guns
Our state is:
* 11th for firearm mortality
* 7th for firearm homicide
* 4th for youth (ages 0-19) firearm mortality
* 4th for youth firearm homicide
* 5th for women murdered by men (most often with a firearm & almost always by a man they know)
* 8th for black homicide victimization
* 12th for youth firearm suicide
"The Second Amendment's clear and concise and secures the uninfringed right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms," Lee said during a news conference at the state Capitol. "Today, I'm announcing that we will be joining 16 other states in this nation by introducing a constitutional carry law in the state of Tennessee."
Look again at the words "while also increasing jail time for criminals who misuse guns and steal weapons."
You might "misuse" your "permitless" gun if you carry it into the state Capitol (a building that bars even current handgun-permit holders from bringing in their guns) to watch this bill be passed.
Or you might be a felon who is prohibited from having a gun but you're caught carrying one anyhow.
Or perhaps you are one of the increasing number of thieves who has found profit in one of the many Tennessee laws over the past decade to loosen gun regulation in our state — a 2014 measure that made it legal for gun owners to carry and store their loaded weapons in their cars, even on private property that prohibits weapons. Thieves loved that move: Statewide there was an 85 percent increase in guns stolen from cars and trucks just during the two-year period from 2016 to 2017, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
In all of these examples, Tennessee's only gun crime prevention is no prevention at all.
Why not just give the keys to the car to all of our 16-year-olds — with no driving lessons, no tests, no insurance requirements, no seat belts and money for gasoline limited only after they have a accident?
Republican Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, an attorney and former judge who joined Lee at the announcement, called it the "best bill I've ever seen. It trusts the law-abiding citizen, which, to my knowledge, no one has been murdered by a law-abiding person. But it dramatically increases the penalties for those who misuse guns. And that's exactly what I've always held out for."
Fact check: Tennessee firearm homicide rates for all ages from 2007 to 2017 increased 58%, according to CDC fatal injury data. For youth firearm homicides (ages 0-19), the increase was 115%. Firearm injury rates rose 33%, and the rate of unintentional firearm injuries jumped by a whooping 84%. Were all of these increases from criminals, or from more guns that were more easily available?
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said, "this is the first time we've had a bill on this subject that I could support. Everybody thinks we ought to vote for a concept. And we don't. We vote for bills up here that have specifics."
Here's one specific about this measure's "dramatically" increased penalties for misusing guns: It increases the penalty for theft of a firearm to a felony and increases the minimum sentences for theft of a firearm from 30 days to 180 days — one month to six months. Feel safer?
Key Firearm Legislation passed in Tennessee between 2007 and the present
2008: “Guns in bars” law is passed, allowing permit holders to carry loaded guns in bars and restaurants
2013: “Guns in Trunks” law is passed, allowing permit holders to store loaded guns in their vehicles, even on private property that prohibits weapons
2014: “Guns in Trunks” law is expanded, allowing any legal gun owner to store loaded guns in their vehicles, even on private property that prohibits weapons
2015: “Guns in Parks” law allows is passed, allowing permit holder to carry loaded guns in any public park or playground, including those used by schools
2016: “Guns on Campus” law is passed, allowing permit holders who are faculty or full-time employees of public colleges and universities to carry loaded guns on college campuses
2017: A law is passed that allows permit holders to carry loaded guns on public transportation and includes a provision that allows an individual or organization to sue a city for triple damages if the city refuses to comply.
2017: A bi-partisan law is passed to strengthen domestic violence laws by requiring convicted domestic abusers to submit a dispossession form to the court following conviction.
2018: A law is passed creating a new gun permit that only requires an applicant to complete a background check and watch a short online video
2018: The House votes to overturn the 2017 firearm dispossession form law. The Senate will vote on the bill in 2020.
Source: Ten Years of Tennessee Gun Death, a Safe Tennessee Project, compiled from CDC data
Another of our lawmakers' lame attempts to soothe their leaky consciences was to say the state still will maintain its existing bifurcated handgun permit program passed in 2019. That permit does require training (some of it simply it watching a video) as well as background checks and a permit fee.
But be real: With the gun show and private gun sale loopholes, which option do we logically think anyone is going to take — pay, spend the time to train and be checked, or just go buy a gun and strap it on?
Another talking point from our officials is that those who choose the permitless option won't be able to carry their firearms in other states unless those states have reciprocal agreements pertaining to permitless carry.
A reality check finds that bucket shot full of holes, too: Only 13 states DON'T honor Tennessee gun laws for Volunteer State travelers. And by the way, Tennessee honors the permits of 53 states, districts and territories. We really are the Wild West.
This new proposal for "permitless" permits — an oxymoron if ever there was one — will allow gun carriers with no permits to take their firearms openly or concealed anywhere that permitted guns already are allowed. In addition to the Capitol, exceptions are schools and parks, as well as businesses, churches and the like that post signs stating no guns are allowed, the governor said.
At least that's true this week.
How long do our state officials who turned their common sense inside out to support this think it will take for the insidious NRA and Tennessee Firearms Association to lean harder on them about those rights "infringements?"