KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Lawmakers are sifting through a number of gun bills this legislative session, including one which would lower the carry age from 21 years old to 18 years old.
Gun rights are a point of contention in every legislative session in Tennessee. This year, they're being discussed even more. However, three bills stick out amongst the bunch. They have generated discussions online and at the capitol.
First, a bill seeks to lower the age of permitless carry from 21 years old to 18 years old.
John Harris with the Tennessee Firearms Association said at the end of February that as the law stands could cause issues for the state
"Under state law and under federal law, 18-year-olds have been eligible since at least 1968 to buy handguns and to own them and possess them," Harris said.
He said barring 18-year-olds from having handguns could have created a civil rights violation for those young adults because he said they would not be legally allowed to exercise the second amendment in the same way as someone over 21 years old.
For example, under current state law, an 18-year-old can legally buy a gun and keep it at home or in their car. But they cannot take it out of their home or car unless certain requirements are met.
Gun owners over 21 years old can carry their firearms with them in public and private spaces (that allow for firearms on the premises) without a permit. That was legalized in April of 2021.
"These are average people just looking for ways to defend themselves," Harris said.
The bill is concerning to some students across the student. Zack Maaieh is a college student at Vanderbilt University. He's 20 years old and doesn't think the bill is a good idea.
"People can't drink until they're 21, and there are reasons behind those things, and I think there are reasons behind keeping the age for permitless carry at 21," Maaieh said.
He said he doesn't want to see gunshots kill any more young people.
"There's so many people that continue to be shot and killed and injured. And behind every one of those numbers, there are friends and families, and so many people that are affected by just one of those being killed or hurt. I'm honestly just so saddened by that," Maaieh said.
The TBI reported that in 2021, around 15,000 teens were arrested across the state — almost 2,000 more arrests than the previous year. A majority of those arrests involved crimes like homicide, rape or assault.
Another bill gaining some traction at the capitol would allow teachers with special enhanced concealed carry permits to bring a gun on school grounds.
If this bill becomes law, teachers must also get written authorization to carry a handgun from the chief of the appropriate law enforcement agency, while also completing 40 hours of basic training in school policing. That training must be approved by the Peace Officer Standards and Training commission.
Faculty and staff who were previously law enforcement officers can also get written authorization from their Director of Schools, in conjunction with the principal of the school where the person is assigned. They would also need to go through 40 hours of basic training in school policing.
Linda McFadyen-Ketchum with Moms Demand Action said she thinks it adds more risk to children in schools.
"We think it would make it much less safe. There's no evidence that it would make it safer. The answer is to keep guns from coming into the school at all," said McFadyen-Ketchum. "If you want to keep your school secure, then hire security professionals, not teachers."
Maaieh agreed, saying he believes it would make students feel less safe.
"For a lot of students, school is the only place that they can feel safe and protected. Putting a gun into a teacher's hand puts a divide in that relationship that they have with their students," he said.
Another bill could help prevent gun thefts from cars.
The bill, HB 1233, was introduced by Representative Caleb Hemmer (D - Nashville). It would make it a Class-C misdemeanor for someone to store a gun, whether loaded or unloaded, in a vehicle or boat while they are not in it unless the gun is locked in a trunk, glove box or locked container. The rules would also apply to ammunition.
In 2022, the Knoxville Police Department said thieves stole 115 guns from cars.
Mayor Indya Kincannon signed a letter to support this bill, alongside three other mayors from Knoxville's big cities.
The letter said, "this will provide local leaders with the tools to prevent senseless violence and crime in our communities."