(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Over the last few years, gun laws in Tennessee have become less strict after lawmakers approved legislation that removed requirements for permits and background checks.
Despite calls from local law enforcement, Republican lawmakers are now looking to loosen the state’s gun laws even further, contending that gun owners’ rights need to be expanded.
Debate over the bill continues as the state recovers from Monday’s mass shooting at a Christian school outside Nashville that left three children and three adults dead. Nashville Chief of Police John Drake told reporters Tuesday that the suspect legally purchased the weapons used in the Covenant School shooting.
State lawmakers have introduced gun-related bills that would allow permit carriers to bring their weapons to college campuses and another that would allow school staff members to carry a handgun.
On March 21, the Tennessee House’s Civil Justice Subcommittee voted to approve HB1005, a bill introduced by Rep. Rusty Grills that would rename “enhanced and concealed handgun carry permits as enhanced and concealed firearm carry permits.”
According to the state’s constitution, residents “have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.”
Tennessee enacted a law in July of 2021 that allowed the permitless carry of handguns, both concealed and unconcealed, for anyone over the age of 21.
“I signed constitutional carry today because it shouldn’t be hard for law-abiding Tennesseans to exercise their #2A rights,” Gov. Bill Lee tweeted after signing the law.
He thanked the Republican-led general assembly and National Rifle Association for “helping get this done.”
Currently, there are no requirements for background checks or trainings for handgun owners in Tennessee. Under the provisions, law enforcement members and military members between 18 and 20 are also allowed to carry their handguns without a permit.
Rifles and shotguns are allowed to be purchased by anyone over 18 and be carried without a permit but there are restrictions. Firearms are not permitted “if it is not concealed on or about the person and must be unloaded” and the owner is not allowed to carry the ammunition of those long guns on their person or in their “immediate vicinity,” according to the law.
Guns are prohibited for residents who have a felony conviction, a DUI conviction, reported mental health problems and undocumented legal status.
The state prohibits guns from being brought to locations like schools, any place that serves alcohol, public parks, courts and government buildings, according to the law. Private businesses are also allowed to prohibit firearms from their properties and must make it clear with signage, according to the law.
State gun owners can still apply for gun permits in other states through the state’s Department of Homeland Security. Those include enhanced permits, which require an eight-hour safety training course, and concealed permits which require a background check and a $100 fee.
When the permitless carry bill was being debated in the statehouse, several law enforcement agencies said they opposed the move.
During testimony in 2021, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation senior policy adviser Jimmy Musice said the state’s previous handgun permit system helped prevent roughly 5,500 people from carrying a weapon after the checks determined they were ineligible.
“We don’t have any issue and support the underlying policy that those that are legally permissible to carry possess a firearm and defend themselves,” he testified. “The permit process allows us to actually do that by knowing if that person truly is lawful.”
Lee told reporters at the time that he was committed to loosening the state’s gun laws.
“You can protect the Second Amendment and you can protect the citizens of our state at the same time,” he said.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Matt Perry testified at the March 21 hearing, saying he was worried about law enforcement interacting with residents with high-capacity ammo weapons.
“Because of constitutional carry, we can’t ask them who they are, what they’re doing, [or] why they have it. We just have to let it happen,” he said.
Lee tweeted out a statement after Monday’s shooting, saying that he was “closely monitoring the tragic situation.”
“Please join us in praying for the school, congregation & Nashville community,” he said.
Shortly after Monday’s shooting, Democratic state Rep. Bo Mitchell, who represents parts of Nashville, spoke with ABC News Live about his frustrations with his colleagues over their stances on gun control.
“I spoke with a lot of these parents all day. During the hours I was there, not a single parent asked me for a thought or a prayer. They asked for me and my colleagues to have some courage and do something about this,” he said.
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