A bill allowing anyone who lawfully possesses a firearm to carry their gun in “open” and visible fashion without need of first obtaining a government-issued permit has cleared the Tennessee Senate.
The measure’s sponsor, Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, said that under Senate Bill 2424, guns could be worn legally, provided the firearm was “openly observable by the ordinary person.” The bill makes it a criminal offense for a non-permitted gun owner to keep a firearm on their body hidden from plain view.
There was no debate on the bill, dubbed the “Open Carry Firearms Freedom Act of 2014.” However, Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, asked if a convicted criminal would be granted open-carry protection under the measure. Beavers said no, that only people who can “legally possess a handgun” could legally wear it in public.
The Senate passed the bill 25-2. Only Democrats Charlotte Burks of Cookeville and Thelma Harper of Nashville voted “no.” Abstaining were Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson and Republican Brian Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In laying out a constitutional foundation for the shift in Tennessee law — gun-owners must currently obtain a license to carry their firearms in public — Senate Bill 2424 cites a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case declaring, “No state shall convert a liberty into a privilege, license it, and attach a fee to it.” That case, Murdock v. Pennsylvania, involved a religious-freedom challenge brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses against a local ordinance requiring them to pay a licensing fee to go door-to-door soliciting donations.
Senate Bill 2424 asserts that “by requiring Tennesseans to pay for and obtain a permit to publicly carry a handgun in all forms, including openly and while in a motor vehicle, current Tennessee law converts the right to carry a handgun into a privilege.”
The measure notes that more than half the states in the nation “generally allow a person to carry a handgun in an unconcealed or open manner without being required to have a handgun carry permit.” Also, the bill declares, “to varying degrees and with varying restrictions, (28 states) allow a person to possess a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle without being required to have a handgun carry permit.”
“People without handgun carry permits within these states regularly and frequently carry handguns openly and within a vehicle,” the measure states. “Such activity has not caused increased danger to public safety or resulted in increased crime.”
House Bill 2409, the lower chamber’s version of the legislation, sponsored by Jonesborough Republican Micah Van Huss, was scheduled for discussion in the Finance, Ways and Means subcommittee Tuesday morning, but the vote was postponed.