NASHVILLE, Tenn. (July 19, 2021) – On July 1, a “constitutional carry” law went into effect in Tennessee making it legal to carry a concealed handgun without a permit and fostering an environment hostile to federal gun control in the state.

Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Brentwood), along with four fellow Republicans, introduced Senate Bill 765 (SB765) on Feb. 9. Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) sponsored a companion bill (HB786) in the House. The new law allows adults 21 and older who can legally possess a firearm in the state to carry a handgun concealed or openly without a state-issued license. Members of the military 18 to 20 can also carry without a permit under the new law. The current licensing program will remain in effect for those wishing to carry concealed in states with reciprocity with Tennessee.

Under the law, Tennesseans will still need to have an enhanced permit to carry a rifle.

Despite intense opposition by law enforcement lobbyists, SB765 passed the Senate 23-9. The House approved the measure 64-29, With Gov. Bill Lee’s signature on April 8, the law went into effect on July 1.

The Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA) argues that this isn’t a true constitutional carry because a state law making it a crime to carry a firearm “with the intent to go armed” remains in place. SB765/HB786 creates an exception to that law allowing adults over 21 to carry a concealed handgun without a permit, as long as they meet certain criteria. TFA finds this approach problematic.

“The choice to make this an ‘exception’ means that you have to satisfy each one of the conditions in order to avoid being charged with the crime. It likely means that a law enforcement officer is authorized to stop and detain any person who is observed carrying a handgun in order to determine if the person either has a valid permit or satisfies each of the conditions to the exception in the Governor’s law to the criminal charge.”

Nevertheless, the enactment of SB765/HB786 does take a step forward and removes the permit requirement for most adults in Tennessee. In fact, it was unlikely a more sweeping measure would have passed at this time given the intense law enforcement lobby opposition.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Mike Bell cosponsored the bill. He said it wasn’t everything he wanted, but it did move the “ball further down the field.” He said the legislature “… may come back to see how this works in a couple of years and come back and make some changes.”

This has been the pattern with marijuana legalization. For instance, Virginia started with a very restrictive medical marijuana program and progressed to full legalization this year. When a state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand grows. That creates pressure to further relax state law. When the world doesn’t come to an end with this limited permitless carry law, there will certainly be pressure to expand it.


While permitless carry bills do not directly affect federal gun control, the widespread passage of permitless conceal carry laws in states subtly undermines federal efforts to regulate guns. As we’ve seen with marijuana and industrial hemp, a federal regulation becomes ineffective when states ignore it and pass laws encouraging the prohibited activity anyway.

The federal government lacks the enforcement power necessary to maintain its ban, and people will willingly take on the small risk of federal sanctions if they know the state will not interfere. This increases when the state actively encourages “the market.”

Less restrictive state gun laws will likely have a similar impact on federal gun laws. It will make it that much more difficult for the feds to enforce any future federal gun control, and increase the likelihood that states with few limits will simply refuse to cooperate with federal enforcement efforts.

State actions such as passing SB765 will lower barriers for those wanting the option of defending themselves with firearms and encourages a “gun-friendly” environment that would make federal efforts to limit firearms that much more difficult.

Mike Maharrey

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