MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that his administration is carefully examining the ramifications of a bill passed by the Senate that would allow Tennesseans to openly carry guns without state-issued permits.
The Senate on Tuesday voted 25-2 in favor of a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet that would remove the permitting requirement for people to carry their weapons openly. The measure would keep the current training and background check requirements to carry concealed firearms.
For Haslam, the bill presents a flashback to the 2010 governor’s race. The final days of that campaign were dominated by the furor created by candidate Haslam after he told the Tennessee Firearms Association that he would sign legislation into law to eliminate Tennessee’s requirements for carrying handguns in public.
Haslam quickly went into damage control over those comments, stressing in campaign appearances around the state that he wouldn’t introduce any such measure and noting that a governor’s veto can easily be overridden by the Legislature. Haslam at the time stressed that he was “in favor of leaving the handgun permit requirements the way they are now.”
Haslam’s stance on the measure was heavily criticized by then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, who argued that such a law could hurt the state’s ability to attract business. “Just because the Legislature does something stupid doesn’t mean the governor has to go along with it,” Bredesen said at the time.
Haslam, who faces no serious opposition for his re-election bid this year, told reporters on Wednesday that he had no major concerns that the open-carry law would do harm to the state’s image.
“I think there’s 12 states that have that now, and another 12 that have some form of that, so it’s actually not that unusual,” he said. “But from our standpoint, it’s more of, ‘Let’s talk through safety and security concerns and see where that takes us.’”
The House version is awaiting a vote in a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee.
Haslam’s appearance at the Tennessee Firearms Association meeting in 2010 included several pointed questions about carrying guns without permits, including from Leonard Embody, an activist who has had several run-ins with law enforcement over the open-carry issue.
Embody was arrested last year for walking around downtown wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an assault rifle. That case has been bound over to the grand jury.
In 2009, Embody was detained while walking in Radnor Lake State Park with an AK-47-style pistol. In 2010, he was detained in the upscale Nashville suburb of Belle Meade while walking with a .44-caliber black powder revolver in his hand. He also has been stopped in at least three other similar situations, but has never been convicted of a crime.
The state of Tennessee revoked Embody’s handgun carry permit in 2010.