Gun safety advocates have condemned Tennessee legislation which would designate some gun owners as police, allowing civilians to carry firearms in locations usually reserved for law enforcement.
The proposed law, introduced in the Tennessee house and senate this month, “expands the definition of ‘law enforcement officer’” to include civilians who hold an enhanced handgun-carry permit – earned by taking an eight-hour handgun safety course and paying a $100 fee.
It comes as a separate bill which would allow 18-year-olds to apply for concealed-carry licenses was approved by a Tennessee house subcommittee on Tuesday.
Shannon Watts, founder of the gun safety group Moms Demand Action, told the Guardian: “Encouraging people to arm themselves and play police puts everyone at risk while making the jobs of actual law enforcement much more difficult.
“The process of obtaining a handgun permit doesn’t come anywhere close to the extensive training that real officers go through, and it’s ridiculous to equate the two. Extremist and dangerous bills like these are part of the gun lobby’s blatant attempt to codify and legalize armed vigilantism.”
She added: “Tennessee has the 14th highest rate of gun violence in the country, and lawmakers should be focused on passing policies that will actually make communities safer, not reckless bills like these.”
The proposed bill was introduced in the state senate by Joey Hensley, a Republican, who told ABC News that the aim of the bill was to allow people with an enhanced handgun carry permit to carry their guns into locations where off-duty law enforcement are allowed to enter, including a store or restaurant that prohibits firearms.
“This is trying to open it up so that people who go to the extreme to get this extra permit can have the right to defend themselves in more places,” Hensley said.
Hensley’s plan has not just alarmed those who advocate for better gun safety. The Tennessee State Lodge for the Fraternal Order of Police, the state’s largest police union, said that it is “adamantly opposed to this bill in its current form.”
Scottie DeLashmit, the president of Tennessee State Lodge for the Fraternal Order of Police, told ABC that officers “spend countless hours” honing their skills, and must qualify annually with the same weapons. DeLashmit added that officers also spend hours training in “driving, criminal law, defensive tactics, etc.”
“These vigorous standards are in place to ensure officers are familiar with their weapons,” DeLashmit said in the statement. “The enhanced handgun carry permit training is far less demanding than anything required from a cadet attending a basic law enforcement academy.”
The bill was introduced in the Tennessee House by Chris Hurt, who did not respond to a request for comment.
Hensley, who was a member of the House for ten years before he was elected to the state senate in 2013, has a history of supporting extreme legislation, including anti-LGBTQ laws. The Tennessee firearm association donated to his reelection campaign in 2020.