NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — When it comes to new gun legislation in Tennessee's General Assembly, some bills are moving along at a rapid-fire pace. Wednesday in the House Criminal Justice Committee, a slate of Republican-backed bills expanding gun access sailed through to their next committee.
Lawmakers approved HB 723 which would allow retired law enforcement officers — who retired in good standing with 20 years of service and are employed on a part-time basis by a university — to carry a firearm.
HJR 38 also passed, which proposes a Tennessee Constitutional Amendment to remove a provision that authorizes the legislature to regulate arms "to prevent crime" and to clarify that the right to bear arms extends beyond that.
The committee passed HB 1189, which limits liability claims against Tennessee firearm manufacturers.
HB 578 also passed, which would eliminate the fee to obtain an enhanced handgun carry permit.
Then there's HB 395, which allows hunters to carry handguns in certain hunting situations.
"Those all just rolled right out of this committee," said Rep. Jason Powell, a Democrat from Nashville. "Essentially, no gun bill in this important committee was defeated or stopped, so that’s a real concern. We just continue to get more extreme as far as gun legislation."
Perhaps the most consequential bill dealing with guns is HB 1005, which was rolled a week in the House Criminal Justice Committee. It changes just one word of the permitless carry law in Tennessee — from handguns to firearms. The bill is getting opposition from a group you may not expect.
"The idea of somebody being able to carry any kind of rifle or high capacity rifles is a concern for law enforcement," said Colonel Matt Perry of the Tennessee Highway Patrol last week in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Perry says if that bill passes, there's nothing stopping someone from carrying a high-powered rifle down a public sidewalk.
"Because of constitutional carry, we can’t ask them who they are, what they’re doing, why they have it — we just have to let it happen, and it makes us extremely reactionary," he said.
Another bill, HB 1158, would lower the permitless carry age from 21 down to 18. Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally admits he's reluctant to pull the trigger on lowering the age.
"There is a danger," said McNally, a Republican from Oak Ridge. "With the gangs and things like that, a lot of times they use children that are 18 years old because they go to juvenile court."
McNally adds that he feels almost obligated to support the bill after Tennessee Attorney General Johnathan Skrmetti signed off on a court agreement that would officially lower the age if a judge officially signs off on the deal.
"I told him at that time that I didn’t like it, but I’d have to hold my nose and go along with it," said McNally.
Only time will tell if the rapid-fire pace of passing these bills stays on target.
Meanwhile, Democrats have filed bills to limit some gun access in Tennessee, but none of them have made it through the committee process so far this year.