Fears are mounting over the impact Tennessee’s permit-less gun carry law will have when the law takes effect Thursday (July 1).
Law enforcement officers across the state are adamantly opposed the controversial law that will allow anyone 21 and older to legally carry a gun, either openly or concealed, without a license, background check or training.
Since Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed the bill into law in April, local law enforcement and community leaders began offering free gun-safety classes across the county, arguing that proper training for residents could be a matter of life or death.
“It’s scary times for me,” Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner said about the law. “This is not a commonsense approach to residents carrying a firearm.”
Bonner is one of several local officials who have opposed the law.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich and others from the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association are also against it.
They urged legislators to keep the current law in place, which will allow residents to carry guns but still require training and a background check.
One of the concerns is that the new law will increase violence in a city that already is suffering from an overwhelming number of gun-related incidents.
So far this year, there has been more than 140 homicides in Memphis. A record was set in 2020 with 323 homicides.
“As violent as Shelby County has become — and we are doing what we can do to curtail that — when we allow our citizens to carry with no training, it doesn’t make sense to me,” Bonner said. “Supporters say that it will decrease violence. I think it will increase.”
States that loosened their gun laws tend to see a 13 to 15 percent increase in violent crime 10 years after adoption, according to a 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Bonner pointed to another concern: Residents who will get a gun without knowing the laws and regulations surrounding firearms. This, he said, may result in an unjustified shooting.
“If you’re going to choose to carry a gun, please understand the proper laws and learn the minimal training of carrying a firearm,” Bonner said. “If you don’t, you can potentially wind up on the other side of the law.”
Tennessee is joining some 19 other states in enacting the permitless carry law.
The National Rifle Association has played a major role in garnering support in states across the country.
Gov. Lee thanked members of the organization for their role in getting the bill passed in Tennessee.
The bill received overwhelming support from Republicans. No Democrats voted in favor of it. Among the proponents was Representative Chris Hurt of Halls, who touted the bill’s harsher penalties for gun-related crimes as a way to ensure violence doesn’t increase.
“Those penalties along with defending the Second Amendment and allowing families and people to defend themselves in Tennessee. I think it’s a win-win,” he said.
Bonner argued that the right to carry isn’t the issue. In fact, he said he supports the Second Amendment. It’s the omission of mandatory training that bothers him. He worries it could be an endangerment for not only residents, but law enforcement officers as well.
“How to interact with someone who is carrying a firearm. That is stressful for an officer. This adds unnecessary stress to these officers’ jobs,” Bonner said.
In response to the bill’s passing, Shelby County Sheriff Department began hosting free gun-safety classes in May.
Following suit have been local community leaders, like Pastor Ricky Floyd of the Pursuit of God Church in Frayser.
Floyd said while he supports the Second Amendment, he is concerned that the lack of training may result in more child-related deaths. This prompted him to host a gun-safety class for children as young as 6 years old.
“I am not as disturbed about the law being passed. I am pro citizens carrying guns, but now we have a responsibility to be trained on how to carry to protect our children,” Floyd said. “And if children are going to have their hands or be anywhere near it, they need to know some rules to keep them safe.”
In 2020, at least 134 children were treated for gunshots at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. Some of those shootings were accidental.
The increasing number of child-related deaths is why Floyd said he plans to continue his classes.
Meanwhile, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office is adding more dates to their gun safety classes, hoping more residents will show up.
“We are asking residents who are thinking of carrying a firearm to please get the proper training,” Bonner pleaded. “This could be a matter of life or death. If one person gets killed because of this new law, that’s one too many.”
(To register for the Sheriff Office’s gun safety classes, residents can call or text the SCSO Training Academy at 901-562-3059 or email [email protected]. Classes will also be posted on the SCSO’s social media pages.)