NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Two bills weaving their way through the legislature could expand open carry for assault weapons or long guns and allow 18-year-olds to openly carry them.
The first would change the term ‘handgun where it appears’ in our code to ‘firearm.’
According to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security legislative liaison Elizabeth Stroecker, it would allow anyone to carry an assault rifle (such as an AR-15 or AK-47) anywhere in public, as long as they aren’t facing any restrictions (like a felony on their record).
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“This would allow any individual to carry an AK-47 outside this building (Cordell Hull), up and down Broadway,” Rep. Bill Beck (D-Nashville) asked in a subcommittee hearing. “Am I reading that correctly?”
“Yes sir,” Stroecker replied.
In addition, another bill would change the minimum age for open carry to 18 years old—currently, it’s 21.
“Keep in mind the majority of mass shootings lately have been committed by 18- to 20-year-olds,” Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) said.
That minimum age-reduction bill is essentially a backup though.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti struck a deal with a far-right gun rights group in California late last month. The group pressed a lawsuit against Tennessee to allow 18-year-olds to openly carry firearms.
Skrmetti’s deal blocks the Department Of Safety and Homeland Security from preventing 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns.
The aforementioned potential new bill would change Tennessee law from handguns to ‘firearms.’
“That exception was created for very specific public safety reasons and with the input of Tennessee law enforcement,” Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said.
The potential new laws have even some top Republicans unsure.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said he spoke with Skrmetti ahead of the agreement. “I told him at that time I didn’t like it, but I guess I’d have to hold my nose and go along with it,” McNally said.
Skrmetti’s decision to accept the deal prompted lawmakers to question the authority of an Attorney General to essentially enact laws without consulting the legislative body.
“There’s a real concern there, it’s a dangerous precedent,” Clemmons said. “We could start to see that in many other areas if the Attorney General so chose.”
Though McNally wasn’t for Skrmetti’s decision itself, he did say the AG led him to believe the state was going to lose the case, so cutting a deal was the right call. “The proper course is, once we do have sufficient evidence that the court is going to rule against us, we go ahead and remove the provision.”
News 2 reached out to the AG’s office for comment on the case and legislation. Since the case technically hasn’t been finalized—it’s awaiting final signature from a judge—the office said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
It did, however, point to New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022), a Supreme Court case that ruled a New York state law that prohibited open handgun carry was unconstitutional.