The Center Square
A bill that would lower the age to carry a handgun in Tennessee from 21 to 18 passed the House on Thursday.
Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, said that House Bill 1735 is about protecting the constitutional rights of 18-year-olds who can vote and enlist in the military. The bill passed by a 64-28 vote.
Tennessee 18-year-olds currently can possess firearms but they cannot carry a handgun unless they are honorably discharged or retired from the U.S. military or they are a member on active duty. Tennessee law allows for permitless carry for those ages 21 and older and, last year, it was sued over the restriction for ages 18, 19 and 20 by the Firearms Policy Coalition.
The companion bill, Senate Bill 2291, is currently in the general subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“This is strictly to get our law in compliance with the Constitution of the United States of America,” Todd said.
The bill met opposition from the Tennessee Department of Public Safety in committee as it was pointed out by Elizabeth Stroecker, legislative director for the Department of Public Safety, that it could threaten the reciprocity of concealed handgun permits for Tennessee residents.
But Todd previously said 25 states have continued to honor reciprocity for 18-year-olds from Tennessee since the exception for 18-year-olds was created. He said 11 others allow reciprocity but exclude 18 to 20-year-olds, with 12 states refusing reciprocity.
Todd also said that he has been told from several law enforcement agencies that lowering that age to 18 could help staffing issues in those departments as it makes younger adults eligible for employment.
“I think that is a slippery slope and we will see the negative impact of this in the future,” said Rep. Larry Miller, D-Memphis.
Stroecker said in committee that the Department of Public Safety will not get a definitive answer on whether those 21 states will drop reciprocity until a bill is passed and the department does its annual survey with other states.
“I do think, maybe, we might be giving some people legality to carrying guns that don’t currently have it,” said Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, who said he didn’t stand against the legislation.
“This is for law-abiding citizens,” Todd said in response. “We are not passing laws for criminals.”
Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said that he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17.
“I had never shot a military rifle,” Parkinson said. “They wouldn’t put a gun in our hands until I went through safety training, range training.”
Parkinson said that he would prefer if there was an amendment that called for training before 18-year-olds could carry a weapon concealed.