Gun advocates still pushing for expanded access to firearms

Monday, December 24, 2012 at 1:40am
122412 GunsIllo topper.jpg

(Illustration by Bret Pelizzari)


As the national conversation turns to how to curb gun violence and who should have access to assault weapons, some state senators are sketching out ideas to make guns more commonplace in Tennessee.

Their idea of reasonable legislation is to ensure every school has someone in on the premises trained and carrying a gun or give teachers or other staff the ability to carry on campus if their school lacks someone else who does.

“All back through civilized history, there’s been a danger to children,” said East Tennessee state Sen. Frank Niceley, who plans to file one such bill. “We don’t have to worry about saber-toothed tigers any more, but there’s always a danger for children.”

Since 2009, Tennessee has led the country in the number of gun laws it’s passed. Most make it easier to carry and own a gun, while a few others make firearms harder to track.

But by and large, few on Capitol Hill think the brutal school slaying of 20 first-graders and six school staff in Newtown, Conn., will disrupt the pace of expanding gun laws here.

In the past four years, the newly emboldened Republican-led legislature expanded the state’s gun laws. The most noteworthy was in 2010 when the state allowed handgun-carry permit holders to take their weapon with them into a bar on the condition they don’t drink. In 2009, handgun-carry permit holders were allowed to go armed into more than 50 state parks and 80 natural state areas.

But the state also sports one of the highest gun death rates in the country, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The Volunteer State rate ranks eighth in the nation with 966 deaths in 2009, and its gun laws earned an F grade from the center.

It takes passing a background check to legally buy a gun in Tennessee, although little else. Permits or licenses are necessary only if the gun owner wants to carry the weapon. Guns don’t need to be registered, people are not required to report if their gun goes missing, and there’s no limit to how many guns someone can purchase, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Just under one in 10 Tennessee adults have a handgun-carry permit in Tennessee, according to an analysis of state handgun-carry records. 

Tennesseans as a whole say they’re not terribly interested in prioritizing gun legislation this year, according to a survey by Vanderbilt University released two days before the shooting. But while officials were still ironing out details about the victims, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation had performed nearly 10,000 background checks, marking it as a potential record weekend for gun sales.

As the number of gun bills making it into the books slowed last year, gun rights advocates have begun to ratchet up pressure on lawmakers to pull the trigger more often.

Gun rights advocates say this month’s shooting probably won’t change their legislative package of prized bills they’d like written into law. But the shooting highlights a need to put guns into the hands of people who know how to use them, the executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association contends.  

“It’s the entire loss of opportunity to even intercede,” said John Harris, who runs the TFA. “Even saving one or two would be better than the total loss.”

“Every year we have a mass shooting, these issues come up about, do we need to reinstate assault weapons ban, do we need to make it tougher to buy a gun, do we need one gun a month, all kinds of these restrictions on access,” said Harris. “What that does is very little to really get them out of the hands of people with mental instabilities. And I’m not sure there’s a good way to stop that. ... If you want a gun, you can go to any shady part of town and buy it stolen.”

The TFA is gearing up to go into next year’s legislative session demanding lawmakers allow gun owners to lock their weapons in their vehicles parked on employer property. Strife over that idea’s failure earlier this year turned into a showdown between gun advocates and Republicans, who were trying to protect the business lobby that wants final say on what weapons can sit on their property.

While both Republican speakers say the issue is low on their list of priorities, they have both seen the writing on the wall that the National Rifle Association and TFA are willing to throw their financial weight behind defeating high-ranking members who block their bills.

That was the story of the year this election cycle as the NRA made an example out of high-ranking House Republican Debra Maggart by independently spending some $50,000 to convince voters to throw her out of office for playing a part in the bill’s failure. They replaced her with Rep. Courtney Rogers, who accepted the gun lobby’s help as she was swept into office.

Lawmakers generally say they don’t expect the massacre at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School to have much effect on the shape and passage of that issue this year. If anything, they said it crystallizes that the decision needs to be taken carefully.

But Rogers, who benefited from more than $102,000 in total donations and independent spending from the NRA and TFA to defeat Maggart, wouldn’t comment on that.

“Funerals are still taking place. Our Nation is grieving. There will be a time for public debate about our gun laws,” she said in an emailed statement. “I personally choose to delay my input into those discussions until after the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays.”

While leading lawmakers have all but promised to pass some form of guns-in-parking-lots this year, details like whether to allow those guns on campus parking lots are still up in the air.

Beyond the NRA’s signature bill, lawmakers are planning other ways to respond to this month’s shooting spree.

Niceley, the senator from Strawberry Plains, is filing a bill that would require a trained school resource officer in each school — including elementary schools — to carry a loaded weapon to protect against possible intruders. In the event the school can’t afford to pay for one, a janitor, principal or other staff member could fill the role, assuming they’ve had training in protecting others.

Knoxville Sen. Stacey Campfield has a broader plan to add teachers to the mix.

Both House Speaker Harwell and Gov. Bill Haslam, who said they’ve realized a new need to beef up safety in schools, say they’re not fans of asking anyone to teach while packing heat.

“I think it would be asking way too much of our teachers for them to be armed in a classroom, and I’m not in favor of going down that route,” she told reporters. “I really think you really have to be highly qualified to handle a gun in a high stress situation, which is in fact what that was.”

Haslam was less committal to his opposition, saying, “There’s just a lot of questions around that to me in terms of how would that work.” He added that he expects most teachers wouldn’t want to be armed.

In Metro schools, at least one city police officer is already stationed in each middle and high school, and some have more.

The answer isn’t doing away with all guns, said Mike Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman who said he owns several although he doesn’t feel much of a need to carry them outside his property. But he said gun advocates can go too far.

“If you’re going to do that, you need to arm the janitors. And why don’t you arm all the school kids. I mean, how crazy can you get,” he quipped.

The TFA may not be running to put guns in children’s backpacks, but Harris said it has long been the groups’ desire to see students learn about guns in the school, much like how they offer driver’s training classes.

The gun lobby has turned into something of an industry. Instead of widgets, it needs to keep pumping out gun bills, and there’s no satisfying the gun lobby’s thirst to crank out more, Turner said.

“And so as soon as they get guns in trunks done, there will have to be another issue. And another issue and another issue, just to keep this machine fueled,” he said.    

31 Comments on this post:

By: Captain Nemo on 12/24/12 at 7:36

I would like to know how and who will pay for this. How will the teacher be able to the children to safety and keep them out of the line of fire? How will an armed guard at the front door keeping intruders at bay going to stop someone or someones from entering from the back?

Why is our lawmakers spending so much time and money on these measures and not on prevention of the sick minds that would. Mental health, like so many other health issue slip pass these showboating lawmakers.

By: ancienthighway on 12/24/12 at 10:40

The why is simple.

The NRA wants more freedom for gun owners (after all more freedom means more guns sold), and if politicians don't give them what they want, contributions go away and more sympathetic candidates are voted in.

The answer to gun violence is more guns to do violence with.

By: FaceBook:Emmett... on 12/24/12 at 10:50

The way the fascist progressives jumped right out there to push for gun control immediately makes it not unreasonable to wonder if this whole thing wasn't orchestrated and planned by Dear Leader and his corrupt and evil minions.

By: Ask01 on 12/24/12 at 10:55

Guns, in and of themselves, are neither good nor evil. That quality rests in the psyche of the individual holding the weapon. The question is how to keep weapons out of the hands of those inclined to do evil.

While it is true weapons can always be obtained illegally if one knows where to look, enacting more stringent requirements for background checks into criminal pasts and mental impairment for the applicant and family members living in the same household will deny access through these avenues. Those denied will be forced to seek out the criminal element to obtain firearms.

I share Captain Nemo's legitimate concern about dividing a teacher's attention between keeping children safe, shepherding them to safety while also returning or laying done covering fire. Also what happens with more than one assailant, as at Columbine? Will P.E. and ROTC instructors be expected to muster out, draw arms and engage? The idea of an armory on any school grounds is an appalling concept.

The answer, until we figure out a method to better identify and deal with mentally unstable citizens, is to be certain they do not have access to firearms through inadequate checks or sympathetic or ignorant family and friends.

Alternatively, with weapons plentiful, ammunition could be strictly controlled and highly taxed. While some are clever enough to reload their own shells, many are not so ingenious or have access to the equipment. The apparatus for rloading could also be strictly controlled.

I suppose it goes without saying, but I will anyway, since some are unable to grasp concepts. The illegal transfer of firearms, or at least ammunition and the equipment for it's manufacture will need to be tightly controlled at the federal level, since some states such as Tennessee will water down any state legislation, with severe penalties such as those reserved for drug offenses.

My bottom line is, as always, one of common sense. The absolute best solution I believe, is compromise from both sides.

The insane pronouncement from the NRA about arming school teachers or having armed volunteers, possibly hundreds of Florida style Zimmerman vigilantes roaming the halls of schools is frightening in itself.

Likewise, the total confiscation of weapons is totally unworkable. The carnage which would almost certainly result from such an attempt would cause the streets to run with blood.

Those opposing firearms need to accept some people will have guns while those advocating weapons need to accept a plan to deny weapons, as much as possible, to the criminal element and those with mental illness.

Once again, I wish everyone, even the trolls, a Happy Holiday Season and propserous New Year. I must run as I have a ham in the oven and and preparing to bake some pies.

Peace, y'all

By: courier37027 on 12/24/12 at 12:50

Ask01, you propose, "...The answer, until we figure out a method to better identify and deal with mentally unstable citizens, is to be certain they do not have access to firearms through inadequate checks or sympathetic or ignorant family and friends."

What would be the steps for implementing this process? A compulsory mental evaluation of every citizen? Dare we enter everyone's home for weapons checks and parental stability? Who determines acceptable standards for gun ownership? If that is the case, let's go ahead and determine who would be good and bad parents, and prohibit reproduction among poor, mentally ill, drug addicts, and broken homes. Sheesh. Invasive policy such as evaluations and determining family thoughts make the NRA look apolitical.

Many times, it seems, whenever someone commits unusual or inexplicable crimes, neighbors and friends make comments along the lines of, "Well, he seemed like a good neighbor, kept to himself, never caused any problems, appeared like any normal person," etc. Prevention in the name of causeless intervention is not the answer.

By: courier37027 on 12/24/12 at 1:22

Let me amend comment and reverse premise of last statement. Should read: Causeless intervention in the name of prevention is not the answer.

By: Captain Nemo on 12/24/12 at 2:01

Emmett jumps out there and hints that this was a Obama plan. Maybe they need to check your paranoia there Emmett.

By: Captain Nemo on 12/24/12 at 2:12

A quick dismissal by couriers, could be taken as this mental stuff is way over my head. It is too complicated for me to think about. More guns is the only way,

courier's last post make me wonder, if someone was to look into courier's family, would there be cause for anyone not to have a gun?

By: ancienthighway on 12/24/12 at 3:23

"Emmett jumps out there and hints that this was a Obama plan."

I thought LaPierre was the "Dear Leader"

By: pswindle on 12/24/12 at 4:03

More guns is not the answer, and LaPierre will be out of a job and the weak-kneed US Congress might develope a back-bone. The NRA has had the same old worn out talking points, but now everyone is listening and it shows how mean-spirited they are.

By: courier37027 on 12/25/12 at 8:17

Nemo must have family working at the IRS. His family crest must say, "Yes, your private, family business is indeed my business."

By: Captain Nemo on 12/25/12 at 9:47

As usual courier is wrong about my family, which makes me think that he family Crest has a Nut and the slogan "penny for you thoughts."

By: Ask01 on 12/25/12 at 10:20

A Merry Christmas to one and all!

I hope everyone has had a thus far wonderful Christmas, and received all for which they wished. I observed my usual tradition of reading Dickens "A Christmas Carol" on Christmas Eve as a way of getting into the spirit of the season. The story never loses it's magic and can constantly be applied to the human condition in any age.

Niceties out of the way, I do wish to address courier37027 for both his response to my first post and about Captain Nemo.

If one supports what seems to be the ideal of the NRA to have a gun in every hand, then I support the idea if anyone wishes to own a weapon, then one and one's family must submit to and pay for the background checks and psychological evaluations to ensure the safety of everyone in the community.

Or, if you read and understood all of my post, both camps can sit down and civilly agree to mutual conditions of compromise satisfying each groups deepest concerns.

If I read the mood of the American public as I believe I do, the majority believe the NRA has taken on the mantle of the extremist gun nut and will, if they maintain a no compromise image do more harm than good for the legal gun owner.

So, once again for the third or fourth time, gun advocates need to tone down the rhetoric, and seek a middle ground, and compromise or risk suffering more dire consequences to gun owner rights than ever imagined. (The Constitution has been amended in the past, and can be once again. Federal law itself can also be very restrictive without violating that noble document.)

Now, regarding your observation about Captian Nemo.

If a person insists on keeping dangerous animals on their property, the law can impose severe restrictions and conditions to insure the public safety.

Likewise, if a person insists on keeping a weapon and accessories designed for, and capable of killing large numbers with ease, the authorities have an obligation and responsibility to take whatever steps are required to insure safety. If one has a family member with mental disabilities who might gain unauthorized access to said weapon and cause harm, once again, the authorities need to intervene.

One makes their family business public business when they seek access to any item which can harm their neighbors.

If you remember nothing else, though, remember the best route is to seek compromise. There, I said it yet again. Extremist reactions to either side are not what we need.

I am willing to listen to all reasonable suggestions within an open debate which will deny access to weapons to the mentally ill while still protecting the rights of American citizens. I wonder how many gun rights advocates are equally inclined?

By: Badbob on 12/25/12 at 2:40

"Since 2009, Tennessee has led the country in the number of gun laws it’s passed. Most make it easier to carry and own a gun, while a few others make firearms harder to track."

And we are 3rd in the per capita of gun deaths in the country.

You gun nuts are a serious threat to our state and our country! Get a brain and forget your penis extenders.

By: FaceBook:Emmett... on 12/25/12 at 6:45

Badbob - And which of those gun deaths were criminal acts committed by gun permit holders?

By: Ask01 on 12/25/12 at 7:59

Emmett, which of those deaths were because the firearms were stolen from a permit holder or sold without documentation to a person who should have not been in possession of a gun in the first place?

Which of those deaths were accidental, and can be attributed to a gun owner improperly securing a weapon and a child or mentally infirm person misusing said weapon?

I don't know, and I'm fairly certain you don't either, but if you do, good.

One death is too many and if changing laws can reduce the possibility in the slightest, such an effort is well worth trying.

By: Animus on 12/25/12 at 10:40

"The Volunteer State rate ranks eighth in the nation with 966 deaths in 2009, and its gun laws earned an F grade from the center."

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, there were only 295 murders committed with a firearm in this state in 2009. So where exactly are the other 671 deaths coming from? Suicides? Justified homicides? Someone is either lying or has modified the definition of death, and I highly doubt it's the FBI.

By: ancienthighway on 12/26/12 at 12:24

Roughly 60% of gun related deaths of adults is due to suicide.
Roughly 60% of gun related deaths for teens and children is due to homicide.

By: yogiman on 12/26/12 at 7:59

How many deaths by guns has been caused by intentional murder? How many by accident? How many by those willing to commit suicide?

How many suicidal deaths have been caused by automobile accidents?, How may auto deaths have been caused by unintentional accident? How many auto deaths has been caused when someone was struck by an automobile intentionally?

God sets your time on this earth beginning the moment he gives you life.

By: Heffa on 12/26/12 at 8:58

The REPORTER should try sticking to the truth instead of trying to push partisan politics. She wrote "In the past four years the newly emboldened REPUBLICAN-led legislature expanded the states gun laws. The most note worthy was in 2010 when the state allowed permit holders to take their weapons with them into a bar under the condition they would not drink".

GUNS IN BARS was introduced by DOUG JACKSON, A DEMOCRAT from Dickson, not a republican as the reporter would have you believe.

This is not a left or right issue, they are all pretty much owned by the NRA, there will be legislation allowing gun rights to trump property rights. Where is the outrage from the left? There is none, tail between their legs knowing they will get crucified if they stand up against the NRA. A few sound bites here and there but no opposition.

The reporter should do a little research or take and ethics class, one or the other.

By: Moonglow1 on 12/26/12 at 8:58

Moonglow1: Mike Turner the Democrat is the sane one in a sea of NRA-purchased Repubs. The NRA does not care about protecting the public. They do care about maximizing gun sales. They care about profits.
In this state where they have denied teachers their rights to unionize, they know want them packing. Teachers are not trained to kill. Nor should they ever be trained to kill. They are trained to teach.

The citizens of TN and law enforcement should be very frightened of the gun lobby and the politicians they control. They support gun manufacturers. They do not care about maintaining a safe environment for the majority of it's people.

By: FaceBook:Emmett... on 12/26/12 at 10:35

Moonglow1 - It's been my experience that law enforcement officers in TN have no fear or concern with regard to legally armed citizens. No one is suggesting that teachers be forced or required to be armed. It would be the personal choice of the individual teacher. I doubt very many would do so. Mostly because people with "education degrees" are not very smart people and are generally more "indoctrinated" with the "progressive" agenda than actually educated.

By: Moonglow1 on 12/26/12 at 12:30

Moonglow1: FaceBook, your statements are not true. Law enforcement is "out gunned" by citizens who own assault weapons. Law enforcement is not supportive of these NRA policies. Soon, due to spending cuts in the face of increasing crime including murders and more citizens running around with assault weapons, don't expect law enforcement to help. They can only do so much.

Your comment regarding educators demonstrates your lack of respect for them. However I am positive you respect the NRA. Such ignorance..

By: FaceBook:Emmett... on 12/26/12 at 3:40

Moonglow1 - I've never encountered a cop who had any problem with the fact that I was armed. And what is an "assault weapon" anyway? Do you even know?

By: not_guilty on 12/26/12 at 5:57

Follow the money. The NRA is, at bottom, a trade association financed by firearms manufacturers. Its leadership is scared spitless of having to actually work for a living.

Has anyone heard that, as a marketing tool, the NRA is going to underwrite a remake of Charlton Heston's most famous movie? Apparently it's going to be called "The Nine Commandments".

By: yogiman on 12/27/12 at 5:07

The NRA financed by firearms manufacturers? I've always thought the NRA was financed by its millions of members.

And a "trade association"? Please correct me if I'm wrong. I've always though it was a citizen's private rights association.

By: yogiman on 12/27/12 at 5:13

Ignorance is in the mind of the ignorant, Moonglow1. Yes, there is more armed citizens than official police officers, but can you name one office who has ever complained about an armed fellow citizen being dangerous? Can you name one incident where a common citizen fired at an officer for no cause?

By: Moonglow1 on 12/27/12 at 7:57

Moonglow1: It is correct that the NRA receives its major finding from gun manufacturers.

Law enforcement as a group is completely against gun waving citizens with assault weapons.

40 % of all gun sales not subject to any background check

1 in 5 persons has a mental illness

1 in 32 persons are on probation

The head of the NRA should not be buying votes or "keeping scorecards. "

Conversely, elected officials should "grow a pair" & actually represent the public. They should NOT represent the interests of lobbyists.

By: Moonglow1 on 12/27/12 at 7:59

Moonglow1: correction "major funding" per above

By: FaceBook:Emmett... on 12/27/12 at 8:53

The US murder rate is as low as it has ever been since 1961 and continuing to decline so whatever it is we have been doing is working, including the many states which have restored citizens rights to carry firearms. But, by all means, let's let this hysterical hypocrisy disarm honest people. Bunch of damn fool morons.

By: Jughead on 12/27/12 at 1:42

Mike Turner is a tool. What a stupid statement---all in the name of politics. Can this moron EVER do something constructive?

I'd like to knock his dang teeth out. What a girly POS nimrod.