What if we had no gun permits?

Sunday, October 31, 2010 at 11:45pm

As Julie Tenpenny worked on her laptop last week in Nashville Sporting Arms, the small west Nashville gun shop she owns with her brother, Chris Tenpenny, you could actually watch as the question began to munch away at her brain.

When first asked whether eliminating handgun carry permits would be wise, she didn’t quite understand. It was clear that to Julie, a gun-store owner, the concepts “right to carry” and “permitted to carry” were so linked, such an unquestioned part of the life of a gun owner, that they meant the same thing. But when it became clear what we were really talking about, she briefly expressed support.

“So just eliminate it and just be able to do it like that? Well, yeah,” she said. Then, 18 seconds later: “Well, I don’t know, I actually do have a problem. You should responsibly go through a course that explains the law. You have to know the law and be able to show competency with using your firearm. So I do think the permit
is necessary.”

Chris, a self-described pro-Second Amendment conservative, expressed similar dissonance at the proposition.

“There are definitely two trains of thought. There’s the train that says you have the right to bear arms, but with rights come responsibilities,” he said. When asked which one he fell into, he thought for a moment and paused as he gave his answer. “I understand both trains of thought, but I have no problem with requiring people to demonstrate at least real basic competency.”

Julie put it more strongly.

“You are putting other people in danger by ignorantly carrying a gun,” she said.

“Ignorance equates to danger and irresponsibility,” Chris added. But while that would seem to indicate that he had made up his mind, he took issue when Julie compared gun permit requirements with driver’s license requirements.

“But driving is a privilege, not a right, see. That’s where the debate comes in.”

That’s where it’s come in lately, at least, as the 2010 gubernatorial race staggers messily toward the finish line.

The birth of an issue

Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s next governor by predestination, likely didn’t damage his chances by taking one of very few firm policy positions on Oct. 18, when he told a meeting of the Tennessee Firearms Association that he would sign (if not actually campaign for) a bill to eliminate handgun carry permits if the legislature manages to pass one.

It’s a non-issue momentarily. And it’s been one pretty much since 1994, when the state legislature changed the word “may” to “shall” in the then-five-year-old handgun carry permit law. First county governments, then later the Tennessee Department of Safety, were compelled to issue a permit to anyone who passed a background check, paid a $115 fee and successfully completed an eight-hour safety course. It seemed clear-cut, constitutionally sound and most importantly, reasonable enough. An initial records search of the state attorney general’s office by its staff, requested by The City Paper, found no instance in which the office was requested to issue an opinion on a possible repeal of the law since 1989.

As for the why now, attorney and TFA’s executive director, John Harris, said it’s just the political climate.

Then again, like in many other debates this year, some say it’s not so grassroots.

“What I think has happened here is that a zealot group — the NRA and people who have a profoundly misguided view of the Second Amendment — have decided that they’re going to assert their constitutional right to carry, which they don’t understand is not an absolute right. They really start with the assumption that ‘I have a constitutional right to carry a gun everywhere, and now we’ll start talking,’ ” said attorney David Randolph Smith, a leading gun control advocate who successfully argued that the 2009 version of the so-called “guns-in-bars” law was too vague to be on the books. Nashville Judge Claudia Bonnyman overturned the law last year. The General Assembly later passed a version that has thus far remained in state code.

By taking this stand, Haslam may have rung a bell that can’t be unrung for the next governor. In the medium-to-long-run, beginning in January when the 107th General Assembly takes the Capitol, this might turn from one of those things that very few people used to think about into one of those things for which platitudinous yelling is the preferred mode of discussion.

“I thought that he gave an unfortunate response,” Smith said. “I am sure that if he had had time to reflect, he probably would have said that he hopes that the legislature would not pass such a law. As far as the concept of signing a bill that eliminated handgun carry permits, that would put Tennessee in an even more extreme position in allowing guns to permeate the society.”

Harris was also less than pleased with the comment, but for different reasons: He would have liked Haslam to actively support a repeal.

“I interpreted Mayor Haslam to say that he was content with the current system, that he will not be on the front of the line moving to adopt [a repeal],” Harris said. “I think that was as much as we could anticipate him saying at this point.”

And an actual end to required permits is more than Harris said his organization is likely to seek this legislative session.

“It’s doable if the stars align like they did a couple of years ago, when Jimmy Naifeh stopped being speaker,” Harris said. “I just don’t think it’s something that’s going to be — if you had to pick one off of our wish list, I don’t think it’s at the top of our list right now.”

The consequences

Even if Tennessee handgun owners might someday be allowed to carry without a permit, federally required background checks would still be in place. Beyond that, it depends on what type of law would be enacted and how it would fit into current state code.

If permits are revoked or simply made optional, prospective gun owners would no longer be required to get any training, police wouldn’t have access to the records of hundreds of thousands of gun owners and big chunks of state gun laws written after the establishment of the carry permit would have to be debated again and reworked.

There are two templates for handgun carry permit elimination bills: Arizona-style, enacted last year there, which does not require people to have permits but retains them as an option; and Vermont-style, which writes permits out of state law altogether. Harris said he’d prefer the former.

“The fact that a permit is issued in Tennessee allows Tennesseans to carry in more than 30 other states,” as opposed to Vermont, whose residents can only carry in their own state and Alaska. “And so Arizona, for example, when they adopted their system, put in place a provision that says that those who want permits can apply for them and they’ll be issued.”

Arizona, however, requires gun owners to have a permit to enter certain places, such as restaurants that serve alcohol, which Harris said he would not want to see in a Tennessee law. That, of course, brings the issue to existing, post-permit law, which includes a number of exceptions — carry allowed for permit holders, no carry allowed except for certain permit holders — that account for the existence of permits.

“The exceptions for, say, carrying a gun in a bar are that you have a permit, which carries with it this concept that you’ve been vetted and background-checked and had eight hours of instruction,” Smith said. “So yeah, if the law were changed overnight, you’d also have to change all the other laws. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have any right to carry in a bar, in a park, all these other laws that they’ve ginned up to create an exception.”

That could be taken care of on the front end, Harris said.

“I think it would all have to be looked at in one omnibus bill,” he said. “I think the whole system would have to be re-evaluated.”

And simplified, which to Harris would mean allowing people to carry most anywhere: parks, restaurants, perhaps even schools. Justifying that, Harris points to a relatively clean record on the part of permitted gun owners.

“I think that in general, the people who are going to commit crimes and are likely to commit crimes aren’t going to bother with getting permits,” rendering permits and bans on carrying largely meaningless. But Smith points to data from the Violence Policy Center, which recently released a report showing more than 200 murders committed by carry permit holders between 2007 and 2010.

“In Tennessee, there are handgun carry permit holders who have shot people and killed people and wounded people,” Smith said. “So the concept that a handgun carry permit holder is any more law-abiding than anyone else is ridiculous. They’re human beings.”

And, he said, for those cases, why take an investigative tool from law enforcement? Indeed, as was the case with the Association of Arizona Chiefs of Police during permit debates last year, law enforcement officials have shown a pattern of opposing legislation that expands handgun ownership and carry rights. Harris said he doesn’t think that should matter here.

“Back when our nation was founded and the constitution was debated, comments were made and well received that those who sacrifice liberty for personal safety deserve neither,” Harris said. “Law enforcement has done a good job in Tennessee over the past 50 years or so, advancing legislation which makes their job markedly easier but has done so, in many respects, without regard to fundamental constitutional rights.”

As for the training issue, Smith said that he would like to see more training, rather than less or none, for prospective handgun owners. When he was originally arguing the 2009 guns-in-bars bill, a frequent argument used by politicians supporting the law was rooted in what they characterized as a stringent permitting system. Smith said he anticipates that, should a debate on required permits come up, support for their elimination might, ironically, come from many of those same people.

“If you buy into what I would call the somewhat flawed logic that the handgun carry permit system allows some level of protection, that is completely inconsistent to the claim that we don’t need permits at all,” he said.

Filed under: City News

42 Comments on this post:

By: JeF64 on 11/1/10 at 8:02

Then I want my permit fees back. And my renewal fee, too!

By: conservarage on 11/1/10 at 8:04

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

By: pswindle on 11/1/10 at 8:24

We are becoming the wild and crazy state of TN.

By: gdiafante on 11/1/10 at 8:28

Key word: militia.

Letting any dumbass bubba carry without regulation is the epitome of stupid. Hence why this state is considering it.

By: Cookie47 on 11/1/10 at 8:29

I'm an HCP holder and I'm a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment but I don't have a problem with a screening process that weeds out a lot of the people who have no business carrying legally or illegally.


By: yogiman on 11/1/10 at 8:37

Considering the Constitution, there is no statement of law that says you should have a government permit to carry a weapon. Of course, the Constitution was written long before the days of our advance population. Why are gun laws so different in all states?

One way to consider to make sure a person is competent in using a weapon; why not set up a new draft law? All citizens of a state would be required to take a course in learning the effective use of a weapon. Competence and responsibility would become a normal part of everyone's life.

By: TITAN1 on 11/1/10 at 8:58

yogi, people take training to get a drivers license, but you wouldn't know it by how many of them drive. You have reckless drivers, you also have reckless people carrying legally.

By: EquinsuOcha on 11/1/10 at 9:54

It works fine in vermont......we are no more reckless than them.......

By: JeffF on 11/1/10 at 10:06

Tennessee (and many other states) have a hunters education requirement before people can attain hunting licences. I think it would be wise to show proof of graduation from a firearm course (low or no cost just like hunters education) before being sold a gun. This is far removed from the cost and effort requirements of the HCP process.

The current system requiring background checks of all people buying a gun would still continue, so the hysterical argument about "anyone owning a gun" is questionable and just plain wrong and a lie.

A check on whether a buyer has taken the proper safety course could be easily added to the many checks.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/1/10 at 10:58

i agree with jeffF ... i believe an intense class should be required and the instructors should be able to fail people if they show characteristics of someone who is going to be careless with their weapon. you shouldn't be able to carry a gun just because you pay the money and sit somewhere for 8 hours. you should have to somehow prove you can be responsible and you have full knowledge of the laws involved with carrying a gun. don't ask me how we can have people prove that because i have yet to think of it lol yes, there are careless legal gun carriers, but the number of responsible legal gun carriers definitely outweighs them. the whole tree shouldn't be cut down just because of a few bad branches. if any of you are gun control freaks and have a problem with us protecting ourselves and our families, get the hell out of our state. =) have a nice day!

By: JeffF on 11/1/10 at 12:24

"Intense class"? That is not what I believe and that is not what the hunters education program is either. There is a constitution that has to followed. It should not be just taking attendance, but it should not be any more intense than the drivers exam (cars killing far more people than guns).

Just be sure that the owners know the legal and safety responsibilities of gun ownership and use and know when lethal force is allowable under law.

By: bluna81 on 11/1/10 at 2:20

ok so is anyone else disturbed that in the picture it says no concealed weapons allowed? A carry permit in Tennessee is just that a CARRY permit, a weapon does NOT have to be concealed. I can walk around downtown with my pistol on my hip, cowboy style, so long as I have a permit. That sign cannot legally keep me from entering with my weapon so long as it is not "concealed".

By: Moonglow1 on 11/1/10 at 8:25

Moonglow1: the news in TN is often very violent. There are numerous gangs in the city. Why listen to the NRA. Let us pass responsible laws. We are a society, not each person out for themselves. Law enforcement is generally opposed to such laws. They know. They deal with the consequences of irresponsibile laws supported by various political interests.

By: dargent7 on 11/2/10 at 6:02

Great. Tenn. just came in 5th for women killed by husbands.
Let's just arm everybody, everywhere.
And take the whole southern block of crazies and succeed from the Union.
No one needs them for anything.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 8:22

moonglow ... go live in memphis for a little while and tell me if it's a society or every man for himself.
why do so many people think that just because there are a few bad seeds out there, that everyone who carries is irresposible or "crazy"??? like i said before, the number of responsible gun carriers out weighs the number of irresponsible gun carriers. there's bad people in every state, that doesn't mean put everyone on lock down. you just always hear about the bad news. good behavior is rarely rewarded or recognized nowadays. so thank you to all the responsible gun carriers out there!

By: TITAN1 on 11/2/10 at 8:42

How do you know the responsible gun carriers out weigh the number of irresponsible ones? I don't think you can just ask someone and take their word for it. Nobody will know until they are put in that position.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 9:09

okay well how bout this ... do you hear about the whole state killing people??? no, you don't. and most of this state carries. just for you, i'm going to go research just how many people in this state are carriers. titan, and whoever else thinks there's a bunch of irresponsible gun carriers and crazy ppl in this state, why do you live here????

By: AmyLiorate on 11/2/10 at 9:10

What was brought up at the TFA meeting was a question to Haslam about gun rights.

He was asked where the state got the power to regulate people carrying firearms.

Haslam didn't know. And yet he is certain to be our next governor.

We have several well protected rights, and many that weren't listed in the USC.

Another question was asked of Bill Haslam which is very valid and he again couldn't or refused to answer:

Why do people have to pay $115 + training class for their 2nd Amendment rights?

Today if you go vote, what would you think if a $100 fee was required to do so?!

If you went to the steps of city hall with a protest sign and you were required to spend 8 hours in training before you could do so - would you be okay with that too?

Rights are something we all have, equally and freely. You can't have a right that is encumbered.

By: AmyLiorate on 11/2/10 at 9:15

HERE is the audio from Haslam at the TFA meeting


By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 10:00

okay titan, there were over 116,000 permits issued last year alone, and over 306,000 total in the state as of a statistic done in October of this year. and that was research done by the state on the state website.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 10:05

i take that back, it was only 301,000

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 10:08

over 301,000* ... whatever you get what i'm sayin. i know i have to be specific with you.

By: AmyLiorate on 11/2/10 at 11:00

dargent7 on 11/2/10 at 7:02

Great. Tenn. just came in 5th for women killed by husbands.

That's a great point D'Argent!

Maybe some women would like to have better access to a gun. To be able to carry it where ever they are, such as the park. Currently a soon to be ex-husband might just show up at the park knowing people there are unarmed.

Did you know that roughly 33% of TN permit holders are women? Every time we talk about limiting "bubba" and "wild west cowboys" we are also talking about limiting where women can go about their routine without being the weaker sex.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 11:21

amen amy lol yea the gun permit numbers for last year over 89,000 were male and only over 27,000 were women =( and another point for dargent is - did it say we're 5th for women "shot" by their husbands or just killed??? cause you can kill someone with a pillow or your bare hands for that matter. i'm pretty sure we're one of the leading states for domestic violence as well (don't quote me though). just because the women were killed doesn't mean they were shot. maybe if they would have all had guns, they wouldn't have been killed lol ... just a thought!

By: TITAN1 on 11/2/10 at 11:27

rebecca, you are missing the point. Just because they are registered and have a permit does not mean they are responsible. Why do I live here? Because I was born here and have lived all my 55 years here. There are irresponsible gun carriers in all states. Did someone say it was just Tennessee? You have your view and I have mine. I think the more who carry, the more dangerous it is..

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 11:47

i never said that all permit holders are responsible. but i never said that all permit holders are irresponsible. are you scared of something? did you have a bad experience with a permit holder or something or an illegal carrier??? i think people with your view should live in NYC and where they have laws that accomodate the gun control freaks. criminals are going to find a way to get guns whether it's legal or not. i want to be able to protect myself against that kind of tactic, and i believe one of the best ways is to give them a taste of their own medicine because tasers only do so much. my husband is 6'4" and 250lbs and a taser would only slow him down for a minute if that. it would probably just piss him off. i've seen him get tasered before so this is not a theory. and it was on full charge. a bullet is a lot more powerful. but like you said - you have your view and i have mine.

By: AmyLiorate on 11/2/10 at 11:48

Titan, you are making an emotional argument, not a logical one.

Just because people don't take two days out of their life for a class and back ground check, doesn't mean that they are irresponsible either.

Vermont has no prerequisite for carrying a gun. In all these years where in Vermont are all the stories of running street battles that the antigun people always stir up?

Do they not have violence there just because the leaves are pretty and maple syrup is fresher?

By: TITAN1 on 11/2/10 at 12:04

Rebecca is the one who is making an emotional argument by calling people gun control freaks. I stand by my view point, the more people who carry, the bigger problem we have. And the guns and bars bill? Guns and alcohol, what could possibly go wrong?

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 12:15

wow ... i didn't realize saying gun control freaks would hurt your feelings that bad. and like amy said, do you hear about a bunch of violence in vermont where they have gun carriers running rampant with no permits???? i sure don't. maybe it's cause they kill anyone who tries to call them a bunch of wild west gun slingers or get word out that they're a bunch of crazies??? i doubt it ... we're all adults here, most of us can act like it when it comes to firearms, you're always going to have those that can't handle it. which is why you equip the rest of us with the means to take that threat on, should it come our way. and we'll let you hide behind us. ;)

By: xhexx on 11/2/10 at 12:20

Let's take the emotional knee jerk responses out for a moment and look at the logic of this. This real issue isn't if someone is carrying a gun or not, but if he's going to commit a crime with that gun?

If he's inclined to commit a crime, whether he's supposed to have a license or not, isn't going to make any difference to him. And if he's not going to commit a crime, that he's carrying a gun is a non-issue. The act of carrying the gun shouldn't be the issue here, but the behavior of the person carrying it. I'm all for adding 10 years to the sentence of someone that uses a gun in a crime automatically. There, you've gotten your extra pound of flesh.

I'm in favor of an AZ style version of the law, no permit needed to carry, but you need a permit if you want to enter businesses where alcohol is served and to have reciprocity with other states. Most people would still opt for having the permit in those circumstances.

By: xhexx on 11/2/10 at 12:27

Actually Bluna, that sign can keep you out. It includes the international symbol for no guns, and that by itself regardless of the verbiage on the sign is all it takes now. Even if there was no verbiage to go with it.

One other thing I'd like to point out. With over 300,000 permit holders in TN, there's a whole lot more HCP holders than police in TN, yet there's a lot more stories in Tennessean about cops committing crimes than HCP holders. And you can be sure the Tennessean doesn't like HCP holders better than cops.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 12:59

i'm with xhexx. and i think that with a law like arizona's, we would still have a lot of people getting permits for the reciprocity with other states. i know i would. i don't think it would be all out chaos like a lot of people seem to think it would be.

By: AmyLiorate on 11/2/10 at 1:00

Ah, Titan tries deferring. Since Rebecca is making emotional statements, then Titan's emotional statements are OK.

Then he switches over to guns and alcohol don't mix. Classic. You are right, they don't. And that is why most every bar bans guns.

It does nothing with regard to outright criminals... they carry guns into bars. What are you going to do, take their permit away?

Every time some thug does something with a gun people like Titan run around demanding that more gun regulation be passed - of course those laws only apply to law abiding people!

By: TITAN1 on 11/2/10 at 1:06

LOL! I needed a good laugh.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 1:10

preach it amy!

By: AmyLiorate on 11/2/10 at 1:12

Ah, someone who uses reason and facts. You beat me to the cop:hcp crime ratio Xhexx... I was getting there.

"One other thing I'd like to point out. With over 300,000 permit holders in TN, there's a whole lot more HCP holders than police in TN, yet there's a lot more stories in Tennessean about cops committing crimes than HCP holders. And you can be sure the Tennessean doesn't like HCP holders better than cops."

By: TITAN1 on 11/2/10 at 1:43

I'll keep my trust in the police. Those who don't like or don't respect them usually have something to hide. Oh, and if you really think the police commit more crimes than the registered gun carriers you speak of, then I have some prime real estate to sell you. You don't have a clue. Now have a great evening, but please don't go off half cocked. No pun intended.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/2/10 at 1:49

no one said we don't like or don't respect police. they were just pointing out a fact.

By: AmyLiorate on 11/2/10 at 1:55

Titan, switching the focus from the topic to an element of the facts doesn't make your case any better. No one said they didn't like the police or trust them.

You trust the police, even though they get in trouble more often than carry permit holders? Logic defies you. I trust the police too, I know several, but I'll also trust my friends and acquaintances who have carry permits.

By: kwikrnu on 11/3/10 at 9:04

29 States allow for some type of carry w/o a permit or license. Why does the State of Tennessee require a permit to carry? Why does the state criminalize the carry of loaded handguns w/o a permit? In 1989 the legislature unconstitutionally made it a misdemeanor offense to carry a loaded handgun. The law has never been challenged and it will be overturned. The prohibition on the carry of firearms is unconstitutional in this State and has been since 1871.

Utah and Florida non-resident permits are cheaper than the TN permit and last longer than 4 years.

By: rebeccaperona on 11/4/10 at 9:00

that's good info kwikrnu =) thanks!

By: pegramite on 11/4/10 at 11:30

Gun permits are just another ego trip! Most people are not crooks- but some assume everyone is. I used to have guns until a "gun enthusiast" broke in and stole them. America must improve the attitude of our legislators - it is a wise man who would eliminate gun permits.... when did we start the permitting and why?