Some people just don’t know when to declare victory and go home.
Public opinion on guns swings back and forth, like a pendulum. After years of increasing gun control and gun bans, the NRA and conservative legislators nationally and at the state level have been on the march. Ownership has become easier. An important Supreme Court decision said the Second Amendment gives private citizens the right to “bear arms.”
Republican control of the state Legislature in Tennessee has led to a succession of gun bills. Setting up a permit-to-carry system that requires training and a background check. Carry permit holders are allowed to carry most anywhere now, including bars, unless the venue is posted.
In short, statewide and nationally the atmosphere for the protection of gun rights has never been better.
Instead of being satisfied with victory on every front, some of the special-interest groups that advocate for guns are now proposing abolishing the carry permit program and allowing gun owners in Tennessee to carry a gun anywhere without having a permit. They point to states like Vermont, where there are no gun regulations and citizens can carry wherever they like. That also means no background checks and no need to demonstrate proficiency with a weapon.
Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, campaigning for governor and addressing a Nashville gun rights organization, was recorded as agreeing to sign such a bill if the Legislature sends it to his desk. You would think Haslam is far enough ahead in the race not to have to pander in this fashion. If you want to be charitable, I suppose you could argue that he knows a governor’s veto in Tennessee is virtually meaningless. It takes only a simple majority of votes to override a veto. If the Legislature sends him such a bill and he vetoes it, it is likely they will override. The “guns in bars” bill wasted a lot of good will with the public, even in Tennessee. Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed it and was overridden. But there was no political fallout for Bredesen.
As a libertarian, I agree philosophically that I shouldn’t have to have state permission to exercise my Second Amendment rights. I refuse to get a carry permit. But I also live in the real world. If we abolish the permit system, Tennesseans also lose reciprocity—if you have a Tennessee permit you can carry in other states with permits. If we don’t have permits, you can’t. I also think background checks and ensuring people are able to fire a weapon safely are good things.
The Supreme Court decision declared that the federal government could not ban guns and deprive citizens of their Second Amendment rights. But the decision also did not prohibit state and local governments from enacting reasonable restrictions. At present the American people seem to be behind the idea that everyone should have the right to own weapons in their home for self defense. There is widespread public support for the concept of private gun ownership.
But if the gun rights advocates continue to push the envelope, the public attitude could change. If you push and push and push, sooner or later you are going to get someone pushing back. Carry permit holders in Tennessee, and other places, have a good record. It is a rare occurrence for someone who has a carry permit, who has had a background check, and who has had training, to use a gun irresponsibly. It is also true that criminals will ignore any gun regulations.
But that is not to say some horrific event couldn’t change things. Or that the public attitude won’t change. It would also be helpful to give the public some time to see how the changes in gun laws plays out. If we have some time to adjust to expanded carry rights without incident, perhaps the issue could be revisited sometime in the future.
Right now it would be politically astute to hunker down, use the courts to enforce hard-won rights, and make sure gun owners are being responsible.
It would be wise, for now, to just shut the hell up.