‘Open carry’ gun bill shot down in House sub

Legislation to allow open carrying of pistols without a permit in Tennessee – approved 25-2 last week in the Senate – was killed Monday night in the House Finance Subcommittee with just one member voting for it and 10 voting no.

Rep. Micha Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said afterwards he accepted the defeat and would not followthrough with an earlier plan to bypass the committee and bring the bill (SB2424) directly to the House floor for a vote.

“At least the people’s voice was heard and we got a hearing,” said Van Huss. “They killed it fair and square.”

Van Huss had argued otherwise earlier in the day, distributing a letter to fellow legislators saying he moved to bypass the committees because of “unwarranted delay” in getting a hearing on the bill with the legislative session drawing to a close and becauses of a “bogus fiscal note” attached to the bill last week. He pledged to raise the $100,000 from private funds if needed to get a fair hearing.

The Legislature’s Fiscal Review staff had declared it would cost taxpayers $100,000 to implement the bill because the Department of Safety said that – as a matter of policy – it would want to change the wording on all handgun carry permits. Because of legislative rules, the $100,000 “fiscal note” sharply lessened prospects of passage since it would cause spending not authorized in the state budget, passed last week.

At the outset of the subcommittee hearing, Van Huss presented an amendment that prohibited the Department of Safety from changing the wording of handgun permits. That meant the bill was back to a zero cost to the state again – as it was before the Department of Safety move last week, following Senate passed of the bill.

Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons defended the department actions, though some legislators roundly criticized the move.

With the fiscal note changed to eliminate the fiscal cost, Van Huss did not repeat his criticis on that front in brief debate. Van Huss said he brought the bill “not to expand our second amendment rights but to protect them” and other states have “open carry” laws “without being the Wild West.”

Gibbons on the other hand said other states laws are different than what Van Huss proposed, which would have meant a permit was necessary to carry a pistol concealed, but not openly. Gibbons said Colorado, which Van Huss cited as an open carry state, actually requires a perimit for open carry in urban areas but not in rural.

“Fiscal note or not,” said Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester, “I believe Tennessee’s gun laws are good, commonsense laws. They strike a balance… I see no compelling reason to change that.”