Gov. Bill Lee on Monday thanked members of the National Rifle Association, the country’s leading gun rights group, for helping push a Tennessee bill to remove the state’s permit requirement to carry a handgun.
Speaking to NRA members on a video call Monday evening, Lee thanked the group for its work to help move forward his administration’s permitless carry bill in this year’s session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
The $20 million legislation, which Lee and other Republican supporters refer to as a “constitutional carry” bill, has passed the Senate and is expected to receive final approval in the House next week. The bill last year stalled due to pandemic-related budget cuts and similar legislation filed in previous legislative sessions failed to gain the level of support Lee’s legislation has received.
Former Gov. Bill Haslam was opposed to removing the state’s existing handgun permit requirements, while leading law enforcement officials and prosecutors continue to testify against the legislation.
Lee on the call described the bill as a component of his “public safety agenda.”
“That includes criminal justice reform. It includes support for law enforcement,” Lee said. “This particular piece of legislation not only protects the Second Amendment, it actually creates a safer environment in our state.”
During recent testimony about the proposed legislation, lawmakers learned that states that have removed gun permit requirements have experienced mixed results when it comes to rates of firearm crimes.
Police have said the change, if enacted, would put put officers in vulnerable positions.
The particular bill championed by Lee and the NRA does not apply to other types of firearms besides handguns, a point that has drawn fierce criticism from other gun rights groups, including the Tennessee Firearms Association and the National Association for Gun Rights.
Both of the latter groups have recently attacked Republicans in the legislature for not supporting wider-ranging permitless carry proposals, including removing permit requirements for all types of firearms or allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to also carry freely.
Lee’s bill also increases punishments for certain gun crimes, such as boosting theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony and mandating six months of incarceration for the offense, up from the current 30-day sentence.
State budget officials predict the legislation would cost the state roughly $20 million, in part from lost revenue from permits and increased incarceration costs. The bill would result in a 20% reduction, or 36,335 fewer, handgun permit applications and renewals each year.
“It is very simple what the founders had in mind, and it was to allow the citizenry to be protected against a tyrannical government,” Lee said.
“What’s most important here is we allow the rights of law-abiding citizens to be protected.”
Lee encouraged those on the call to “engage in thoughtful dialogue with folks who are asking questions about this,” including with people concerned about an increase in violent crime as a result.
“Making them understand, none of us want gun violence,” Lee said. “In fact, we’re working really hard in our state and in the legislature to bring forth laws that increase penalties for violent offenders. We don’t want gun violence.”
Matt Herriman, the NRA’s state director for multiple southern states, including Tennessee, led the conversation with Lee. Herriman served as a legislative liaison for Lee during his first year as governor.
Reach Natalie Allison at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.
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