It will be up to Republican Gov. Bill Lee to decide whether Tennessee will start offering a concealed carry-only handgun permit that doesn’t require training that includes actually firing a weapon.
The Senate voted 18-11 Thursday for Republican Sen. John Stevens’ bill, which would allow online training of at least 90 minutes with a test to suffice for the new, less expensive permits. The current handgun carry permits would still remain an option, but Stevens contended that their eight-hour training requirement with live firing is time-consuming and burdensome.
The House already approved the bill, so it heads to the governor.
The proposal would be the highest profile gun rights change this year. Efforts died on several big pushes to loosen gun restrictions, including letting teachers carry guns and holding permit holders harmless if they mistakenly bring guns into businesses that ban them, then immediately leave when they find out they aren’t allowed.
The final vote on the permit bill came in what’s expected to be the day that lawmakers end their monthslong legislative session. In the GOP-supermajority General Assembly, six Republican senators voted with the chamber’s five Democrats in opposition. Critics said the current handgun carry permit is working well.
“Next year, you’re going to be asked to vote on a bill that arms teachers, potentially that have never fired a weapon,” said Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville, who voted “no.”
The legislation has drawn opposition from gun control advocates but has also split two gun rights groups.
The National Rifle Association’s legislative arm has backed the measure.
“By creating a new concealed carry permit, Tennesseans are able to choose which permit option is best for them and their lifestyle in order to exercise their constitutional right to self-defense,” the NRA’s Institute for Legal Action has said.
But the Tennessee Firearm Association opposed it, worrying that it could mean other states won’t acknowledge Tennessee’s existing handgun carry permits or only the new ones. The group also said adding the permit could get in the way of its goal of permitless carry.
Earlier this week, the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America delivered lawmakers a letter signed by 35 Tennessee gun safety instructors in opposition of the bill.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said he was able to skip an online training course’s videos and finish it Thursday while the committee discussed and advanced the bill.
“We’re basically turning this testing process into a joke. My 5-year-old could get through this test online without any difficulty, and so could anyone,” Yarbro said.
Stevens said the new concealed permit would not allow people to carry guns on higher education campuses. The new permit application would be $65, instead of the current permit’s $100 fee.
But Republican Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, who has run for office before by billing herself as a “pistol-packin’ momma,” said having another permit will create confusion. She voted against the bill.
“If it’s the cost we’re trying to change, then why didn’t we just reduce the cost of the carry permit now?” Bowling said.