NASHVILLE - Tennessee lawmakers will consider a measure to make it easier to openly carry a handgun.
A bill that would allow Tennesseans to do so without first obtaining a permit was introduced this week by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough.
Those interested in carrying a handgun in a concealed manner would still be required to obtain a permit, according to the recently filed bill.
As it is written, the legislation applies only to handguns and not other firearms such as shotguns.
The bill is one that Second Amendment advocates are pushing throughout the country in an effort to move states toward what is known as "constitutional carry," the idea that the U.S. Constitution affords gun owners the ability to possess weapons without what they view as unreasonable restrictions, such as the need to obtain a permit.
John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, referred to Van Huss' bill as a subcategory of constitutional carry.
Full constitutional carry would allow anyone to carry a weapon, concealed or in the open, without first obtaining a permit, Harris said.
"There are some people, including the Tennessee Firearms Association, that think when it comes to the Constitution, (Second Amendment) rights are absolute," he said. "It doesn't have a but or unless."
The new measure is essentially the same as one Van Huss introduced in previous legislative sessions. Lawmakers have rejected the legislation in the past.
In his bill, Van Huss notes that 29 states, including Missouri, West Virginia and Louisiana, have some form of permitless carry.
Permitless carry is one of several gun-related issues Harris' organization is working to advance this year.
Although Harris' group has supported Van Huss' previous version of his bill, he believes such legislation is an incremental effort to move toward the ultimate goal of allowing firearms owners to obtain and carry weapons without getting a permit.
"I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad idea," he said.
Harris said Van Huss' bill comes after lawmakers approved legislation that allowed gun owners to carry weapons in their car without needing a permit. "That was sort of a step towards constitutional carry," he said. "We are seeing legislation moving us towards the goal, but the goal is always going to be full constitutional carry."
While Harris supports the recently filed legislation, he is concerned about its prospects of making it to the floor of both chambers.
He pointed to the makeup of three legislative committees — the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full and subcommittee of House Civil Justice — saying that some members on the legislative panels have not been supportive of permitless carry legislation in the past.
Last year a bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, that would have ended the permit requirement to carry a gun concealed or in the open failed to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
During the committee's discussion on the bill, an attorney with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and a legislative liaison for the state said Gov. Bill Haslam's administration was philosophically opposed to Green's bill.
After the bill was defeated, Haslam said he thought it would be upending the state's permit system.
Opponents of permitless carry legislation in Tennessee have said it would be dangerous for the state — an argument used in many other statehouses as they've considered the legislation.
"We all support the Second Amendment, but with rights come responsibilities," said Vicki Powers, a volunteer with the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "If lawmakers take away Tennessee's permitting process for carrying guns in public, they'll be going against the advice of Tennessee law enforcement and against the will of concerned Tennesseans like me, who want better for our families."
As of Friday, there is no Senate sponsor of Van Huss' bill.