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Tennessee Lawmakers Near Final Vote On Eliminating Gun Permit Requirement

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán

Tennessee lawmakers are getting close to a final vote on a plan to do away with the state’s gun permit requirement.

The House Finance Committee approved the measure today, putting it on track for a floor vote — possibly as soon as next week. House Bill 786/Senate Bill 765has already cleared the state Senate and is being championed by Gov. Bill Lee.

“It’s really important to me. When I campaigned, I said, ‘You know, people want good schools and safe neighborhoods,'” he told a meeting of the National Rifle Association Monday night. “Good jobs, good schools and a safe neighborhood. And from my perspective, this is an important part of creating safe neighborhoods.”

Past attempts to get rid of the gun permit requirement have stalled out amid opposition from police, gun control groups and past governors. But Lee has put his full weight behind the proposal, making it part of his agenda last year before putting it on hold because of the pandemic and continuing to press for its passage this year.

The measure is also gaining steam after mass shootings have receded from the headlines as people social distance. Opponents point to last week’s killings in Atlanta and this week’s in Boulder, Colo., as warning signs.

“Our governor has a responsibility to care for, nurture, be responsible, be accountable for the citizens of Tennessee,” says Aaron Marble, senior pastor at Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church. “Over the past few weeks, our country has been crying because it has been left vulnerable because of our senseless violence and commitment to firearms.”

The measure would not entirely eliminate gun permits in Tennessee. Gun owners could still get permits voluntarily, and Lee says they could be needed to carry legally in states that have reciprocity agreements with Tennessee. Gun permits can also be used for identification, including to vote.

But Matt Herriman, the NRA’s state director in Tennessee, argues permitting gives Tennesseans “a false sense of security.”

“The permits do not stop bad actors from doing bad things,” he says.

Law enforcement, including the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, has tried to block the measure. Police groups say there needs to be a record of those who can and cannot legally carry a gun in public.

They say Lee could lower barriers to obtaining a gun permit — perhaps even making them free — without doing away with them entirely.

WPLN’s Damon Mitchell contributed to this report.

Chas joined WPLN in 2015 after eight years with The Tennessean, including more than five years as the newspaper's statehouse reporter.Chas has also covered communities, politics and business in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Chas grew up in South Carolina and attended Columbia University in New York, where he studied economics and journalism. Outside of work, he's a dedicated distance runner, having completed a dozen marathons
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