To Bear Arms

Close-up of a police officer's gun

The arguments surrounding Tennessee’s new
Constitutional Carry legislation 

When I was a kid, my friends and I played ‘army,’ fighting World War II around the houses and nearby jungle-like terrain of Merritt Island, Florida. We carried realistic toy military rifle replicas, marching to our “battles” using neighborhood streets. An adult neighbor might call out, “I hope the good guys win.” These days, it’s unlikely we’d get similar comments. 

Guns being an emotional issue, emotions pro and con are high surrounding the Constitutional Carry, or Permitless Carry, legislation that was signed into law on April 8 by Gov. Bill Lee and becomes effective July 1. With some restrictions, this bill allows persons over 21, and military members over 18, to possess and carry a handgun—openly or concealed—without a permit or a course on gun safety. 

Political decisions often seem to be grounded in Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is often an equal and opposite reaction. As gun control advocates have ramped up their demands for an increasing number of what they call “common sense” gun control restrictions, there’s been pushback from those who feel such restrictions are an assault on their rights.

The issues are rooted in the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution: “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.” The legal definitions of “shall not,” according to, means a procedure is prohibited, an obligation not to act is imposed, or there exists an absolute prohibition of this specification. People have a right to bear arms; the argument is over whether, or what, restrictions may be applied.

Tennessee’s Constitutional Carry bill was subject to discussions that included unconditional support, sober analysis, and shrieks of horror. The question worth asking is: does only the gun’s visibility matter? If someone’s weapon is concealed in their pocket, purse, or an unseen holster, is that better than it being seen?

 That there were changing or conflicting thoughts on the subject, even at the highest levels, demonstrates the politics and the passions driving the legislation. On September 3, 2018, during Gov. Bill Lee’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign, the Tennessean newspaper reported, “When asked if he thought Tennesseans should be able to carry a handgun without getting a permit, Lee said, ‘I don’t. Primarily because I’m a guy who’s listening to law enforcement and what they believe, and law enforcement is very much against that.’” The Tennessee Sheriff’s Association was  against the bill, as were multiple law enforcement agencies around the state. In Knox County, Sheriff Tom Spangler—who supports Constitutional Carry—said the Sheriff’s Association position was that, “We were just wanting to make sure that they had classroom education of the laws and those who have never carried a gun, knowing when they can and can’t use it.” Spangler intends to offer free courses to the public on the dos and don’ts of proper gun practices.

In 2020, Tennessee issued 145,000 handgun carry permits. That can only be a fraction of the guns in private ownership throughout the state. Very few guns are ever used in homicides: there are 325 million Americans who own an estimated 200 million to 300 million guns. In 2020, there were about 14,000 gun-related homicides; in comparison, 42,000 died in vehicle crashes.

While giving context to the discussion, gun statistics are irrelevant to the person whose funeral has just been held. Thus, requiring educational programming on gun usage—without needing a permit—could have been an acceptable middle ground, but middle ground isn’t exactly in the spirit of the times. At some point, after a few fatal accidents, an educational component will be assigned to Constitutional Carry.

When it happens, it won’t be greeted with universal acclaim and will be cited by gun rights advocates as another greasy spot on the slippery slope. But it’s coming, sure as shootin’.   

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