Groups respond to Tennessee governor's gun legislation

Robert Houk • Feb 28, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Groups for and against gun control were quick to react to Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement Thursday that his administration is pushing passage of “Constitutional Carry” legislation in Tennessee.

The National Rifle Association praised the governor’s legislation as an important “self-defense option,” an official with the Tennessee Firearms Association said he needed to see more details before backing the bill and leaders of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America believe the measure is contrary to responsible gun ownership.

“The Second Amendment is clear and concise and secures the freedoms of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms,” Lee said in a statement. “I am pleased to announce Constitutional Carry legislation today that will protect the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans, while also stiffening penalties on criminals who steal or illegally possess firearms.”

The governor was joined at a news conference at the state Capitol Building announcing the gun bill by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and state House Speaker Cameron Sexton. Lee said both legislative leaders are “helping to lead the way on this important issue.”

The governor’s legislation would extend the constitutional right to carry a handgun to all law-abiding citizens with or without a permit who are 21 and older, except in current restricted areas.

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, which is leading the push for Constitutional Carry in Tennessee, released a statement Thursday saying the “measure that would expand self-defense options for law-abiding citizens.”

Matt Herriman, the organization’s state director, also said Constitutional Carry “is part of the Right to Carry movement begun by the NRA 30 years ago to ensure no law-abiding citizen is ever left defenseless.”

The NRA said 16 states — Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine — already allow individuals to carry a concealed handgun without a government-issued permit.

John Harris the executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, said his organization “remains optimistic, but extremely guarded as to whether it could support all of the bill.” Harris released a statement noting it is unclear if Lee or the General Assembly will “consider input or amendments from the public” to the legislation.

“After hearing the press announcement and without the opportunity to actually see the ‘devil in the details’ regarding the bill itself, it is still impossible to say whether the bill is as pro-Second Amendment as the governor and the legislative speakers suggested,” Harris said.

The Tennessee chapters of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Students Demand Action also released a statement after Lee announced he was backing legislation to allow Tennesseans to carry a loaded handgun in public without a permit.

“It’s common sense that if you’re going to carry a concealed gun in public, you should pass a background check and make sure you know how to handle it,” said Leeann Hewlett, a volunteer leader with Moms Demand Action. “Gov. Lee should listen to gun safety instructors, who know far more than most about being responsible gun owners. They have said loud and clear that cutting our permitting system is the wrong choice for Tennessee.”

Seo Yoon Yang, a volunteer with Chattanooga Students Demand Action and member of the Students Demand Action National Advisory Board, said Lee’s announcement “proves that he’s wildly out of touch with the vast majority of Tennesseans” on gun issues.

“Tennessee’s permitting system helps keep Tennessee families safe, but the governor would rather pander to gun extremists and dismantle a cornerstone of responsible gun ownership in Tennessee.” Yang said.

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