Tennessee considers lowering concealed carry age to 18

State House Civil Justice Committee considered the proposal last week, and the Tennessee Department of Public Safety renewed its opposition.

Updated: March 7, 2022 - 11:14pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The debate over whether 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds in Tennessee should be able to carry a concealed handgun will continue this week in a House committee.

House Civil Justice Committee discussion on lowering the age to carry a handgun from age 21 to age 18 lasted longer than time allowed last week, with the Tennessee Department of Public Safety again voicing its opposition to the measure and saying it could cost licensed Tennessee residents their rights to carry in up to 21 other states.

Sponsoring Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, believes House Bill 1735 will not affect any of the reciprocity Tennessee residents have now.

Tennessee 18-year-olds can possess firearms but they cannot carry a handgun unless they are honorably discharged or retired from the U.S. Armed Services or they are a member on active duty.

Todd said 25 states have continued to honor reciprocity for 18-year-olds from Tennessee since the exceptions for 18-year-olds was created. He said 11 others allow reciprocity but exclude 18- to -20-year-olds, with 12 states refusing reciprocity. Vermont allows open carry but does so without a written agreement with Tennessee.

“If what is happening in Ukraine is happening here, we would hope that every 18-year-old would have that protection,” Todd said.

Robin Smith, R-Hixson, said she supported lowering the age to 18 and asked a representative of the Department of Public Safety why the agency would oppose the law.

“There is plenty of Supreme Court case law that shows that Second Amendment rights can be restricted if they are reasonable,” said Elizabeth Stroecker, legislative director for the Department of Public Safety. “One great example relative to 18-year-olds is that you actually have to be 21 to purchase a handgun specifically. That is why it is 21 in the code now.”

Stroecker reiterated that the Department of Public Safety will not get a definitive answer on whether those 21 states will drop reciprocity until a bill is passed and the department does its annual survey with other states. If a state will not accept a permit from an 18- to 20-year-old, it generally will not accept reciprocity for anyone in the state, Stroecker said.

Vanderbilt student Zack Maaieh, representing Everytown for Gun Safety, opposed the bill and said gun deaths increased 48% from 2011 to 2020 in the state and 18- to 20-year-olds are three times more likely to commit gun homicides than those age 21 or older.

“I know, and I’m sure you all know, this law will only put Tennesseans in more danger,” Maaieh said.

Smith responded while comparing Maaieh’s statistics with statistics on automobile deaths, saying no one is asking for automobiles to be banned.

“Automobiles do not cause accidents,” Smith said. “Guns do not cause accidents. It’s the person behind them.”

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said he entered the Marine Corps when he was 17 and he was not allowed to have a weapon until he completed seven weeks of gun training. He said he ultimately became a proficient shooter but advocated for additional training for 18- to 20-year-olds.

“What they taught us in there is when it’s appropriate to defend yourself with a firearm,” Parkinson said. “It could be a better bill if we created a step-up license for those who are 18-to-20.”

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, voiced concern the law would allow 18-year-old high school seniors to bring guns onto school grounds.

While students cannot bring guns into a school building, Elizabeth Insognia of the Tennessee Office of Legal Services said guns can be brought into a school parking lot by a permit holder or if the gun is unloaded and locked in the vehicle. By allowing 18-year-olds to get a permit, this law would allow them to bring a gun to the school parking lot, she said.