A Dickson state representative who leads the criminal justice committee that will vote Wednesday on the governor’s permitless gun carry bill said he understands law enforcement concerns — including former Dickson County sheriff Jeff Bledsoe who heads the state sheriff association.
But Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, believes the legislation unburdens law-abiding citizens and “hammers people who actually misbehave with guns.”
“The governor is going about it in the most reasoned way possible…,” Curcio said. “We are basically just removing that penalty from people who are otherwise lawful who just happened to be carrying a gun.”
The legislation would allow for both open and concealed carrying of handguns for people 21 and older without a permit, as well as for military members ages 18 to 20.
It also increases punishments for certain gun crimes, such as boosting theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony and mandating six months of incarceration for the offense, up from the current 30-day sentence.
Curcio is the chairman of the state House Criminal Justice Committee, which will vote on whether the bill advances.
Bledsoe, TN Sheriff’s group opposed
Some law enforcement leaders and groups statewide are against removing the gun-permitting process.
One of those opposing groups is the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, led by former Dickson County Sheriff Jeff Bledsoe.
Bledsoe said the association leadership, made up of current sheriffs, supports the enhanced gun penalties but opposes removing the permit requirement for handguns.
“We have and will continue to support the Second Amendment,” Bledsoe said. “We are united with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on the bills. TSA believes there is a way to allow citizens to carry under the Second Amendment and have a database to verify those that cannot lawfully carry.”
Bledsoe said law enforcement is concerned how they will know if a person is legally carrying a handgun.
“There will be no method or process for us to verify. We have relied on the state of Tennessee since 1996 (25 years) under the handgun carry permit process to determine those that can lawfully carry a handgun,” Bledsoe said. “The current procedure distinguishes those that cannot lawfully carry and the permit database is the source used by law enforcement.”
Bledsoe cited a state Safety and Homeland Security 2020 handgun carry permit report showing that 5,704 permits were suspended, revoked or denied last year.
“This implies the permit system is still working to protect our families, friends, and neighbors in Tennessee,” Bledsoe said.
Bledsoe suggested making the handgun permit process free so there was “no fee to exercise your constitutional right.”
Some people will ‘misbehave with guns,’ regardless of permit
Curcio said he understood the unease some law enforcement officials have about having to assume everyone carrying a gun is law abiding, if the bill passes. Currently, the onus is on citizens to show they have a permit, if asked by law enforcement.
“But I think bad people who want to misbehave with guns are doing that regardless of a misdemeanor,” Curcio said.
Currently, if a person carries a gun without a permit, they are guilty of a Class C misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $500 on the first offense.
Curcio said the governor’s bill would do away with that penalty for law-abiding citizens carrying handguns but also “levy a lot of penalties for people who misbehave with guns.”
“It levies all these penalties that a lot of my colleagues have brought every year that we couldn’t find the money for,” Curcio said. “It hammers people who actually misbehave with guns.”
The legislator provided an example with the state’s gun theft penalty. Curcio said gun theft punishment is currently based on the value of the gun.
“The handgun that I carry is 30 years old,” Curcio said. “It’s not worth $20. But it will kill you.”
“But if you steal that gun from me, you are guilty of a misdemeanor because it’s not worth anything,” Curcio added. “Under this bill, you are guilty of a felony.”
Not all guns rights advocates are happy with Lee’s bill.
In a statement last week, the National Association for Gun Rights called Lee’s legislation “faux Constitutional Carry” as Dudley Brown, the group’s president, railed against the governor’s “failed leadership” for not seeking to remove permit requirements for those ages 18-20 and for people carrying long guns.
A bill by Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, would do just that, though. Griffey’s permitless carry legislation also continues to advance in legislation.
Former Dickson County sheriff Tom Wall has publicly pushed for the “real” constitutional carry bill, which is the name supporters have given to Griffey’s bill.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: ‘Constitutional Carry’: Committee votes today on permitless gun bill; sheriffs oppose