In one of the most "astonishingly bad even for the GOP" things I've seen in a while, Tennessee Republicans want to designate all concealed carry permit holders in the state as "law enforcement officers" giving them all the legal protections of police when it comes to where they can carry weapons and how those weapons can be used.
Legislation introduced in the Tennessee state legislature this month is raising alarms from the state's police union and gun control advocates who say it could turn the streets into the "old West."
Two bills in the state assembly and state senate, HB 254 and SB 2523, would amend Tennessee law and designate "a person who has been issued an enhanced handgun carry permit" as a member of law enforcement.
"As introduced, expands the definition of 'law enforcement officer' to include a person who has been issued an enhanced handgun carry permit; provided, that the permit is not suspended, revoked, or expired, for purposes of authority to carry a firearm under certain circumstances," the summary for the bill reads on the Tennessee General Assembly website.
There are currently 686,348 active enhanced handgun carry permit holders in the state, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which issues the permits. A spokesperson for the department declined to comment about the proposed legislation.
Although the legislation doesn't yet have any hearings scheduled and the assembly version has only one co-sponsor, it's already getting pushback, including from a police union who says it could ultimately lead to more gun violence.
Jonathan Gold, a Michigan-based firearms instructor and member of the non-profit Giffords Gun Owners for Safety, told ABC News the bill would encourage more vigilantism that would ultimately lead to more harm.
"I don't understand our regression to the old West, because this is what it feels like," he told ABC News. "I've studied the old West, and I don't think anyone wants to go back to the murder rate of Tombstone."
Under Tennessee's gun rules, an adult civilian resident can apply for an enhanced gun permit, which allows for both open and concealed carry, by paying a $100 fee and providing an eight-hour handgun safety course certificate.
Several groups of residents can get an exemption to the training, including registered armed guards, members of the military and veterans, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
State Rep. Christopher Hurt, the lead sponsor for the state House bill, didn't immediately respond to messages from ABC News for comment.
State Sen. Joey Hensley, who introduced the state Senate version of the bill, told ABC News that the goal of the bill was to allow enhanced gun permit carriers to carry their weapons into locations where off-duty law enforcement enter, such as a store or restaurant that prohibits guns inside their business. Hensley said the bill would not allow enhanced permit holders to bring their weapons into courts or schools.
"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," the senator told ABC News Thursday.
The legislation is also being heavily opposed by police unions, because they don't want to deal with the hassle of defending 600,000 jackasses with pistols shooting people willy-nilly. Most importantly, giving a specific class of gun owners legal protections when it comes to lethal weapons is a guaranteed recipe for wave after wave of "citizens' arrests" and vigilante-style shootings.
If the purpose of the bill was to expand the number of places concealed carry would be allowed in the state, that's what the bill should say. But the bill doesn't say that, it specifically designates concealed carry holders as law enforcement officers instead.
No, these Republicans know exactly what they are doing here.