The last effort to this year do away with a requirement for gun owners to obtain a permit to possess a firearm in public looks to have been shot down.
On March 25, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee held its final meeting of the year and heard Rockvale Republican Rick Womick pitch his “constitutional carry” legislation.
House Bill 535 sought to allow any Tennessean who may legally own a firearm to carry it openly or concealed without being required to seek approval for a state-issued permit.
Additionally, the Senate version of the bill — SB780, sponsored by Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers — was assigned to the general subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, ending any possibility that it would be heard by the upper chamber this year.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey told TNReport last week the bill was moved to the general sub at the request of the sponsor.
Womick’s legislation stalled on a 2-2-2 vote — similar to the earlier-this-session outcome of a permitless open carry proposal carried by Jonesborough Republican and former Marine scout sniper Micah Van Huss, with subcommittee Chairman Jim Coley of Bartlett and full Civil Justice Committee Chairman Jon Lundberg of Bristol abstaining from the vote.
“Our Second Amendment of the Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees every citizen in this country the right to carry and bear arms, and not have that right infringed upon by government,” Womick said in committee. He called the requirement to apply for a permit “an infringement” on that right.
Womick said anyone who can legally own a firearm should be able to carry that with them anywhere a gun can be taken under the law — meaning courts, schools and other government buildings where guns are understood to be prohibited wouldn’t turn into the OK Corral, despite the fears of opponents.
Womick also explained that because he thought training was important for safe, responsible gun ownership, his legislation included a provision to require all purveyors of firearms provide customers with information regarding gun safety and where to get training. Womick added the gun store owners were on board with the requirement.
Womick told the committee Gov. Bill Haslam had assured gun activists while campaigning for his current job several years ago that he would sign the legislation should the General Assembly pass it
However, Womick acknowledged he’d recently received a letter from Haslam that said the billionaire Pilot Flying J heir would now be opposing the legislation on “philosophical grounds.”
The bill was also opposed on the committee by Nashville Democrats Bill Beck and Sherry Jones.
Beck said he opposed the legislation because Davidson County’s murder rate had been declining and its crime rate was the lowest it had been in 50 years, and he didn’t “want to see it go back up.”
“If something’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Beck told TNReport after the hearing.
Jones said, “I’ve said this before, and I’m going to say it again, and I guess I’m going to keep saying it. I don’t believe that everybody in this state should be carrying a gun.”
“We’re going to give them to every felon out there with this legislation. We’re going to give guns to anybody, and this is just not right,” Jones said.
Additionally, representatives for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association said their organizations would oppose any legislation that “allows the sale of a firearm without a background check,” and that bypasses the “proper training.”
Womick told TNReport after the hearing that background checks would still be required to make any gun purchase, and called the public safety officials’ statements “a strawman argument.”
Womick alleged that the committee — a killing floor for legislation seeking to expand gun rights this session — was specifically selected by House Speaker Beth Harwell to ensure the demise of gun bills.
Beck also told TNReport after the hearing he was concerned about Tennessee losing tourism because after Georgia passed its open carry law in 2014, “they’ve lost a lot of conventions in the city of Atlanta.”
When asked later about his source for that claim, Beck simply replied, “CNN.”
TNReport was unable to find any corroborating reports of Atlanta — or anywhere in the state of Georgia — losing any conventions as a result of the state’s easing gun restrictions in the last year.
In 2015, about 18 states were looking at loosening gun permit restrictions.
The same day that Womick’s bill failed, the chief financial officer of the Kroger Company told CNBC’s Squawk Box that his company would not agree to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s demands that the store put more restrictions on gun-owners than local law provides.
Alex Harris can be contacted at Alex@TNReport.com.