The TN Legislature up to its normal ways

A couple of days ago, I got a message from my friend Joseph.

“Have you signed the petition on permitless carry?” he asked me.

I had no clue what he was talking about. Now I will fully admit that gun control laws are not at the top of my priority list for advocacy. While I support enhanced restrictions, especially on assault-style guns, I haven’t been especially engaged in those issues given my focus on homelessness, affordable housing, and our safety net hospital. And, if you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and a national conversation on systemic racism, especially seen in our criminal justice system. So, while I should have had some idea what was going on, this legislation had completely skipped my attention.

So, after talking with Joseph (who had asked me to join a group of clergy in presenting petitions to the governor), I attempted to learn more about his permitless carry legislation.

It wasn’t easy. Of course, the Tennessean had a short article about the legislation making its way through the statehouse. They pointed to house bill HB2817 which I promptly looked up. When I landed on the page, I was confused. The legislation on that page talked about extending “…from 30 days to 45 days the time within which the issuing judge is required to report to the attorney general following the expiration, extension, or denial of an order authorizing a wire, oral, or electronic interception.” By all indications, this bill had nothing to do with gun control in any way.

After asking around, I was directed to the amendments on that bill, all of which said:

Creates exceptions for the offense of open or concealed carrying of a firearm with the intent to go armed for any person legally in possession and not prohibited from carrying a firearm.

This amendment, which has nothing to do with judicial procedures in any, would allow (if passed) any person in Tennessee over a certain age the right to carry a firearm (either canceled or openly) without any permit whatsoever. There are also some additional penalties for the theft of a firearm, but the meat of this legislation is to effectively rescind current permitting requirements and allow anyone to carry firearms without any permit whatsoever.

And, in the midst of a pandemic and a national crisis on race relations, our legislature is trying to sneak this through in an amendment to legislation that has nothing to do with gun rights.

So, when my friend Joe asked me to make a statement for the media today regarding this legislation, this is what I came up with:

For most of my life, I would hear my parents, grandparents, and other elders remind me that “…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And now, in the midst of a pandemic and a crisis of conscience in regards to our government’s ability to represent ALL persons, we find our state representatives bringing forth legislation to fix something that isn’t broke.

The current laws regarding owning firearms in our state are not especially restrictive. Our reality is that most of our citizens can purchase and use firearms if they want to. Yes, doing so requires one to demonstrate their ability to do so in ways that avoid harming others, but that is no more onerous than our regulations on who can drive. Our current laws are not broken, and I believe that our legislators are trying to solve a so-called problem that really doesn’t exist. That is not only my opinion, but also that of law enforcement professionals throughout the state.

What is especially troubling is the willingness of our leaders to sneak this legislation through as an amendment to a bill that has nothing to do with the use of firearms. Our ability to trust our leaders is eroded when there is a lack of transparency about their intentions, and this bill is a prime example about why trust in governmental institutions is eroding.

We have more important things to consider at this time. We find ourselves responding to a healthcare crisis that has made clear the weaknesses in our systems for providing care. We see people taking to the streets in their belief that our criminal justice system is not equitable and puts some in our community’s lives at risk. This is not the time to try and fix something that isn’t broke. And so, I call on our legislators to reject this bill and focus on the real problems that ail us.

I continue to pray that God will give our leaders the humility and openness to transcend political agendas and truly address the many needs of our community. And I pray that God gives them the wisdom to know the difference between the things that are broken and the things that aren’t. 

Folks wonder why there continues to be a lack of trust in government. It’s actions like these, which draw on procedural shortcuts to get legislation passed rather than an open and honest conversation about the merits of a bill. I know there are people who disagree with my stance on this issue arguing for an absolute right in the Constitution regarding the ownership and carrying of guns. I respectfully disagree, believing that the Second Amendment is less clear than some advocate, but I ask for the opportunity for open debate regarding the meaning of the text rather than some sort of subterfuge so that one side can get their way in the face of what seems to be broad opposition on the other side.

Be honest folks. Quit playing these games. Speak the truth and don’t hide in a cloakroom.

I encourage all who believe that carrying without a permit be in touch with your representatives today.

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