KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers in Nashville are discussing dropping the legal age to carry a gun from 21 to 18. The gun rights expansion effort follows a major change last session by Tennessee lawmakers, doing away with the permit requirement to carry a gun.
Right now, the legal age you can carry without a permit is 21. However, the legal age you can buy is 18. That discrepancy has caused the state some issues.
The Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association explained how it divided gun owners into two classes of people.
"It created a civil rights violation because they created two classes of individuals that were not treated the same with respect to exercising a fundamental right," John Harris said.
For example, an 18-year-old can legally buy a gun, and keep it at home or in their car. But they cannot take it out of their home or car unless certain requirements are met.
Gun owners over the age of 21 can carry their firearms with them in public and private spaces (that allow for firearms on the premises) without a permit. That was legalized in April of 2021.
"Within a few weeks of that, three individuals in East Tennessee filed a federal court lawsuit saying that new law violated their civil rights," Harris said.
Those individuals, accompanied on the complaint by Firearms Policy Coalition cited an infringement on their second amendment rights. Here's an excerpt from that complaint.
"Plaintiffs wish to exercise their fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed right to carry loaded, operable handguns on their person, outside their homes, while in public, for lawful purposes including immediate self-defense. But they cannot because of the laws policies, practices, and customs that Defendants have been and continue to actively enforce today," the complaint said.
The state of Tennessee lost. They now must pay $50,000 in attorney's fees to the plaintiffs and Firearms Policy Coalition.
Speaker Cameron Sexton says that the case sets the stage for the legislature to follow suit.
"There was a court case where the state of Tennessee was sued. Our AG has advised us that we need to drop the age to 18 and allow 18-year-olds to carry it either we can make that change, or the courts were ruled unconstitutional," Speaker Sexton said.
Studies from Every Town show Tennessee still ranks 12th in the country for the most gun-related deaths. Also, violence tied to guns is the second-leading cause of death in teens by suicide or homicide.
The top prosecutor in Knox County, DA Charme Allen is concerned about the effects of lowering the age limit.
"I do not think that's a good idea. I am pro-gun carrying on myself. and I'm not against carrying guns. I'm against kids carrying guns, and 18-year-olds just typically do not have the mental capacity to have a gun to be able to carry a gun," the District Attorney said.
Lawmakers said their bill aims to lower the age, and that it's more of a formality to align with the Attorney General's position and the court decision that's been settled.
The Speaker expected it to pass in the House. It will also have to pass in the Senate before reaching the Governor's desk.
The bull was taken off the calendar in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and was deferred in the Senate Judiciary Committee until Jan. 23, 2024.