Pendulum Swings: Gun Lobby Ignores the Importance of Public Support

You would think the murder of 20 Connecticut school children and a national debate on gun safety would prompt the gun lobby and its legislative allies in Tennessee to reconsider spending the upcoming session pushing another gun bill.

You would be wrong.

Gun rights have often been a pendulum issue in this country, swinging toward restrictions like the Brady Bill and an assault-weapons ban, with cities even imposing gun bans. Since then there has been a swing back with the expiration of the assault weapons ban, and carry permit laws have been passed. The U.S. Supreme Court decision confirming a Constitutional right to bear arms had gun-rights advocates on a roll.

Instead of being happy with a half-dozen gun-rights bills being passed by the new Republican majority in our state Legislature in recent years, the gun lobbies have doubled down. They have to have an issue to gin up dues and remain relevant.

But pushing that pendulum up to its apogee is inviting it to start swinging back the other way.

John Harris, leader of the Tennessee Firearms Association, told The Tennessean the goal of his organization is to remove all statutory and regulatory restrictions on firearms possession. So the goal is to allow children, the mentally ill, and convicted felons the right to bear arms?

It is important, in order to preserve gun rights, that the public support the concept. The public has been supportive of efforts to expand gun rights in recent years—or at least not opposed to the movement. It is the extreme views of people like Harris and the tone deafness of NRA lobbyists that threaten to turn public opinion in the opposite direction.

The proposed guns-in-parking-lots bill, which allows gun owners to carry guns to the workplace in their vehicles, even if the owner of the property objects, is a clear infringement of property rights of business owners and farmers.

But the merits of the bill aside, taking it up in this climate tells the public that the gun lobby and its legislative allies have a "public be damned" attitude. The success of gun bills in recent years has produced a dangerous hubris among supporters. They seem to ignore public opinion and they do so at their peril.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the right to bear arms and has said states and cities cannot ban them. But let us remember that gun regulation is in the purview of state governments. That's why the lobbyists are down in Nashville trying to get additional laws passed. It allows states to restrict the gun rights of under-age buyers, the mentally ill, and convicted felons. And allow property owners, from FedEx managers to your local farmer, to decide who can bring a gun onto their property.

My friend state Sen. Frank Niceley has proposed that "resource officers," currently in place at most high schools and some middle schools, be expanded to every school. Recognizing that some schools (and he represents several rural counties) cannot afford to have the Sheriff's Department provide a deputy for each school, he proposes an alternative. It would allow the school to have a trained staff member be a substitute resource officer. This has resulted in an outcry about putting guns in schools.

First, resource officers are already in many schools. I would also suggest that if you have a college-educated administrator, teacher, or coach who has had psychological testing and training in security measures in place, would they not be as qualified as deputies now assigned to schools?

The proposal doesn't allow untrained teachers go around carrying guns.

The public wants something done to protect our children and prevent another Newtown massacre. Niceley's proposal to provide them with protection is one way to do it and seems more practical than trying to ban weapons and ammunition.

There are enough "assault weapons" and ammunition out here in America to arm a third-world country. But the gun lobby needs to concentrate on protecting what has been achieved. If you keep pushing, that pendulum is going to swing back and hit you in the ass.