The Tennessee Legislature has adjourned for 2017. Tennessee Firearms Association has worked on, tracked and many times opposed more than 70 bills that were introduced this year. Twenty-three (23) bills have been passed into law and signed by the Governor. None of them address any issue that should make you as a gun owner proud to say that “Tennessee is leading the way to protect the gun rights of Tennesseans” because, well, none of the new laws do that.
There were a number of good bills introduced. These good bills included a bill that would have moved Tennessee into the rapidly growing number of states which have full constitutional carry (approximately 14 such states as of today). These good bills included a bill that would have moved Tennessee into the group of approximately 30 states that do not require any handgun permit for citizens to carry openly, also know as permitless open carry. These good bills included bills that would have meaningfully reduce the number of gun free zones. These good bills would have removed criminal penalty consequences if a private property owner decided to ban firearms on private property. These good bills would have protected and removed infringements on your first amendment rights to raise funds through group efforts to advance constitutional issues. These good bills would have curtailed the abuses of the Tennessee Department of Safety regarding the handgun permit program and instructor licensing.
None of these good bills passed. Our Governor and his loyal followers in the Department of Safety opposed several of these bills. Other legislators, including Establishment Republican Legislative leadership, used the committee system to defeat these bills before they ever got to the floor of either house for a real debate on the merits.
So what did pass? Of the 23 bills, only a few could be classified as good. None have broad impact for most Tennesseans. None markedly advance the effort to remove the infringements on the 2nd Amendment.
You can review the entire list of new laws in the Tennessee Firearms Association Legislative Report 2017.
But, here are a few of note.
SB1339/HB0688 by Sen. Paul Bailey and Rep. Micah Van Huss (Public Chapter 202) is a good bill. It moves the battle slightly forward. In 2014, Tennessee enacted a small change in the law which removed the requirement that a person have a handgun permit to legally transport any firearm in a motor vehicle. Public Chapter 202 slightly expanded the existing law (found in Tenn. Code Ann. Section 39-17-1307(e)) by adding “boats” so that now an individual, who can legally purchase and possess a firearm, can have a firearm in a legally possessed “motor vehicle” or “boat.” Of course, there are nuances to the law such as it may not apply to employer provided vehicles if certain conditions are met and it excludes “seaplanes”, for some unknown reason, from the definition of a boat.
The Senate passed the bill 30-0 and the House passed it 79-12-1 largely on party lines.
SB0145/HB0061by Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Courtney Rogers (Public Chapter 185) also helps some small number of gun owners. This bill was not really a change in the law. It was primarily a technical clarification. What it does is clarify that as a matter of state law transactions between licensed gun dealers and/or manufacturers and/or importers do not require criminal background checks. It also clarifies that under state law a federally licensed dealer or manufacturer does not have to perform a background check on a sale of a personally owned used gun (guns which are not “dealer inventory”). It also clarifies that occasional or causal sales by individuals of personally owned guns do not require criminal background checks.
The Senate passed the bill 24-3 and the House passed it 78-14-1 with both votes taking place largely on party lines.
SB0921/HB011 by Sen. Steve Southerland and Rep. Tilman Goins (Public Chapter 339) is the Tennessee Hearing Protection Act. It removes suppressors (a/k/a “silencers”) as a prohibited weapon under Tennessee law by deleting the reference in Tenn. Code Ann. Section 39-17-1302(a)(5). While this is a good move, it does not do anything to eliminate the classification of suppressors as a regulated item under the National Firearms Act of 1934 or to remove the requirement that the purchase or transfer of a suppressor can take place only upon approval of the ATF (which is presently taking about 1 year) and the payment of a $200 federal transfer tax. DO NOT assume that you can legally make or acquire a suppressor without compliance with the NFA’s requirements until the federal law is changed as well.
The Senate passed the bill 28-1 and the House passed it 74-18.
There is a new law that looked good initially as a bill but became worse and more “statist” as the amendments came on. TFA views only part of the law as a positive step but there are aspects which are bad for gun owners sufficiently that TFA will be calling on those who voted for this to explain their votes and reasoning for expanding gun free zone “traps”
on government owned, taxpayer funded properties.
The legislation was SB0445/HB508 by Sen. John Stevens and Rep. William Lamberth (Public Chapter 467). The bill started off ok, but it needed a few tweaks. The original bill did two things. First, it provided standing for individuals and interested entities to seek court rulings on whether local governments (like Knoxville and Nashville) are violating certain state laws regarding handgun use, possession, ownership, transfer, etc. The bill would also allow the recovery of attorneys fees against the local government if it is found in violation by the court.
The second thing the original bill did was to prohibit any state or local government entity in Tennessee from “posting” the property to ban handgun permit holders unless the entity a) installed metal detectors and b) had at least 1 law enforcement or private security officer properly trained and searching bags and those entering the property.
As this bill went through the broken committee system, it went from ok to worse. The problems came with respect to the banning of guns in the 2nd half of the bill. First, the sponsors agreed to remove entirely the “state” from the requirements that guns could only be banned if metal detectors and trained searches were performed. The second problem was that with respect to local governments the bill was amended to actually expand gun free zones on local government taxpayer funded properties rather than to discourage it.
For example, existing Tennessee law in Tenn. Code Ann. Section 39-17-1306 prohibited by statute carrying firearms in a room (any room) while court is in progress in that room. The language of the existing statute, before the change in the law in 2017, stated “No person shall intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly carry on or about the person while inside any room in which judicial proceedings are in progress.”
In Tennessee, there are many public offices in the same building as these courtrooms. In some counties, the courtrooms are frequently unused in those buildings whereas other offices such as county clerks, election administrators, county commissions, and other county office are open full time. Under the law as it was, the only spot off limits was the specific courtroom and only while in use.
Senate Bill 0455 (John Stevens) / House Bill 0508 (William Lamberth) changed the courtoom issue and changed it for the worse for many citizens. In the amendment that became part of the law as enacted, these Republican sponsors changed the word “room”, as quoted above to “building”. The second thing that the amendment did was to make the prohibition, at least as to whether metal detectors and security guards were required, apply “at all times regardless of whether judicial proceedings are in progress.”
So what does this mean? Is the entire building off limits, without posting, when “judicial proceedings are in progress”? It appears the answer is yes. If “judicial proceedings are in progress” are metal detectors and checkpoints required? It appears the answer is no. Are parts of the building or the entire building “gun friendly” if “judicial proceedings are not in progress”? Well, it depends – is the building (or parts of it) also posted under TCA 39-17-1359? If so, then its prohibited but the penalty is a misdemeanor. If its not otherwise posted, then permit holders may be able to enter the building. What does appear to be the case is that the legislature has intentionally created yet another trap just as it has done with public parks. If the building is a prohibited place only while “judicial proceedings are in progress” because there is no other posting, then what they have created is a public trap where the felony charge literally “comes and goes” depending on what is occurring somewhere in the building and not based on the building’s existence or purpose. If the building has both judicial proceedings (from time to time) and is posted then the penalty changes from felony to misdemeanor and back depending on an occurrence that the public may not even know is transpiring.
These two changes are enormous. First, where the law may have only applied to a single room and only while it was in use, now the law will apply to the entire building and without regard to whether the building is in use.
Not a single Republican House member voted against this bill although a few did not vote at all. Similarly, not a single Senate member voted against the bill although one, Senator Beavers was excused for illness and therefore did not vote.
Some might think that banning guns in publicly owned, taxpayer funded buildings and creating expanded gun free zones is the right thing to do. Some legislators may have understood this when they voted for the bill. Some likely did not but just “trusted” the sponsors. Either way, the effect of this new law is to potentially expand the restrictions on gun owners relative to access to public buildings and increase the number of gun free zones in Tennessee.
Without addressing each of the remaining new laws specifically, there are new laws which create new exemptions for the range training requirements for permit holders, that expand or address the expungment process, that allow domestic violence victims under certain circumstances to get expedited permits, that move funds from the general fund to the TWRA to offset “free” or reduced cost hunting and fishing licenses to some classes of people, one which allocates $20 million dollars to increased felony convictions on those possessing firearms illegally, and, finally, one which allows district attorneys and some assistant district attorneys to carry firearms full time.