Cameron Sexton

Rep. Cameron Sexton

Tennesseans could be locked and loaded in the near future as the state’s constitutional carry legislation edges closer to passage, allowing law-abiding citizens to carry a firearm without permit or attending gun safety classes.

The legislation would permit both open and concealed carrying of handguns for anyone over 21. The House bill, which was unveiled last year but shelved due to the pandemic, would also increase the punishment for theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony that would require six months in jail.

The bill, promoted by Gov. Bill Lee and supported by most Republican members of the General Assembly, is not universally popular as both the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are opposed to the idea.

"I think we can protect our law enforcement. Protect our citizenry, and protect our second amendment rights all at the same time,” Lee said of the push back from the sheriff’s association and TBI.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, in a press conference with the Tennessee Press Association attended by The Tullahoma News, questioned why the state’s present laws are more restrictive than the laws to own a gun.

“The right to carry a firearm shouldn’t be more restrictive than it is to own a gun,” Sexton said. “Law abiding citizens should not have their rights infringed on.”

There are presently 15 states that allow the carrying of a firearm without permit. Sexton said that the state is looking to pass tougher laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, including increasing the sentence for convicted felons caught with a firearm to include service of 100 percent of their sentence without chance of parole. There are also restrictions being discussed that would exclude those with multiple drunk driving offenses and those convicted of stalking from carrying a firearm.

The passage of the bill would not impact the present permit system as persons may still obtain their handgun permits if they wish; however, if the bill becomes law, they were not be required to do so.