Tennessee is among half of US states with a permitless concealed carry law. GOP lawmakers want to expand it

Students from The Covenant School get off a bus to meet their parents at the reunification site at the Woodmont Baptist Church (AP)

In the weeks before six people, including three nine-year-old children, were fatally shot inside a Nashville school, Tennessee lawmakers considered several pieces of legislation to loosen restrictions on firearms.

The proposals were introduced two years after Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill into law that makes it easier for people to openly carry handguns in the state without a permit. Tennessee is one of 25 states with a permitless concealed carry law, a measure that has been rapidly adopted by lawmakers across the US as part of what right-wing activists have called a “constitutional carry” movement in recognition of the Second Amendment.

The same year Tennessee’s legislation was signed into law, lawmakers approved similar measures in Arizona, Iowa, Montana, Texas and Utah. In 2022, lawmakers passed similar bills in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Ohio. Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is expected to sign a similar measure into law this year after its passage in a GOP-controlled legislature.

Tennessee’s law allows most people 21 and older to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. It also extends those exceptions to US military service members from age 18.

When the measure passed the state’s House in 2021, GOP Majority Leader William Lamberth told lawmakers that it was “not the end of the journey” for legislative efforts that make it easier for people to carry firearms in the state.

Indeed, GOP state lawmakers introduced legislation that would allow all residents from age 18 to carry handguns without permits. Other proposals would allow residents to openly carry any firearm, including shotguns and AR-style rifles, without a permit, and would recognise similar permits issued in other states.

Another bill would allow teachers and school staff to carry a firearm on campus, while another would allow any adult who is legally allowed to carry a firearm in the state to do so on park or school properties, including college campuses and elementary schools.

Tennessee was among the top 10 deadliest states for gun violence in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the US and “some of the weakest gun laws in the country,” according to a statement from gun reform advocacy group Moms Demand Action.

“Despite continued acts of gun violence, lawmakers continue to cave to the gun lobby’s ‘guns everywhere’ agenda,” the group said in a statement on 27 March.

Roughly 1,385 people in Tennessee are killed by guns each year, a figure that surged by 52 per cent over the last decade while gun deaths spiked by 39 per cent nationally during the same time period, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Gun violence remains the leading cause of death among American children.

“In America and in Tennessee, guns are the leading killer of kids yet Tennessee lawmakers have done nothing but gut gun safety laws, putting gun industry profits ahead of the safety of our children,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “We don’t have to live this way and our children certainly don’t have to die this way.”