- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The state Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to allow Tennesseans to openly carry guns without a state-issued permit.

The chamber voted 25-2 in favor of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet.

Beavers said the measure would maintain the current background checks and training requirements in order to carry concealed firearms, but would allow anyone legally allowed to own a gun to carry it openly without any extra restrictions.

Beavers said on the Senate floor that requiring a carry permit “converts the right to carry a handgun into a privilege.”

“The intent of this act is to remove restrictions which may prohibit persons who are not otherwise prohibited from possessing a handgun to openly carry handguns within this state without the necessity of a handgun carry permit,” she said.

Beavers said after the vote that it would be up to law enforcement to figure out whether people carrying sidearm in public were doing so illegally.

“I guess they could ask you your name and do a background check on you, and they’d know whether you committed any felonies or anything that would not allow you to carry legally,” she said.

The bill passed after little discussion. Democratic Sens. Charlotte Burks of Monterey and Thelma Harper of Nashville cast the lone votes against the bill, while two other Democrats and three Republicans abstained.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who told reporters in January that he did not believe open carry initiatives were necessary, voted for the bill on Tuesday.

“What we’re doing now works,” Ramsey said at the time. “The fact that we at least give people training and at least do background checks on people before they do this - it’s a little bit of trouble to be able to get a gun carry permit, and it should be.”

Later Tuesday, Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider said the Blountville Republican pioneered the gun permit system in Tennessee and “continues to stand behind its proven success.”

“While he did not see an immediate need for open carry in Tennessee, the bill is consistent with his longstanding philosophical support for the second amendment’s right to bear arms,” Kleinheider said.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said the administration has taken a neutral stance on the bill.

The measure would not appear to override special provisions in state law that allow people with handgun carry permits to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol, take firearms in to state and local parks where they are otherwise banned and store their guns in vehicles parked on company parking lots.

The bill would also remove state restrictions on the location of ammunition when firearms are being transported in vehicles, and would allow guns to be removed from cars on school property for the purposes of moving storing them in another part of the vehicle.

The companion bill was scheduled for a vote in the budget subcommittee of the House Finance Committee on Wednesday. Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville expressed surprise that the measure had passed the Senate so quickly, where several members had expressed support for the current permit requirements. But Harwell added that she reserves judgment on the legislation until the final House version comes up for a vote.



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