Tennessee bills would change gun permit laws, allow campus carry

Published 10:19 am Friday, February 24, 2023

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Two bills in the Tennessee Legislature would change the places and way some Tennesseans are able to carry firearms.

A bill that does several things, including changing the term “handgun” to “firearm” in concealed carry code, made its way through the House Civil Justice Committee. The bill was amended and also now includes language to lower the age for concealed carry permits from 21 to 18, in line with an agreement from Tennessee’s Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti and the Firearms Policy Coalition to settle the lawsuit.

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House Bill 1005 replaced a previous House Bill on that topic.

Elizabeth Stroecker, the director of legislative affairs for the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, testified and said her department opposed the bill. While she agreed with lowering the permit age to 18, after the court settlement, she opposed other portions of the bill, including the language change to “firearms.”

Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, said Stroecker does not have the statutory or constitutional authority to oppose the bill as a member of the department and also said that, in conversations earlier in the week with Gov. Bill Lee’s office, he had been told the department would testify about the impact but not oppose the bill.

Stroecker said she was there representing the department and governor’s office, which Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, confirmed.

“They are giving testimony for us to consider in whatever way we choose,” Lamberth said. “… if we have any issue, we are willing to take that up with the commissioner, who has 40-plus years of law enforcement experience, that they are here to represent.”

Another bill, Senate Bill 827, would allow for those with enhanced handgun permits to carry a firearm on college campuses. The bill applies to higher education and not K-12 schools and is subject to the 21-year-old current requirement for enhanced handgun permits that would be changed if HB 1005 passed.

“Currently, college students can carry a weapon up until they step foot on campus,” said Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, the bill sponsor. “But this bill would ensure that eligible college students can carry a firearm to defend themselves on campus. All people have a right to defend themselves. Students on college campuses should be no different.”

The bill summary includes a description that it allows law enforcement officers to “carry a firearm when under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.” Hensley, however, said an amendment to the bill makes it clear that is not allowed.

“Unfortunately, crime is an issue on large college campuses, and law-abiding students should have the right to take every measure possible to ensure their safety – including lawfully carrying a firearm,” Hensley said in a statement.