Pre-empted from action by state, city struggles with gun control

Monday, January 7, 2013 at 2:45am
010713 Guns topper.jpg

(Michael W. Bunch/SouthComm)


For Nashville’s elected officials, the ongoing discussion about guns, and gun control, is all talk.

That’s not due to political cowardice, though — at least, not entirely. In fact, local governments in Tennessee are expressly pre-empted by state law from enacting new gun regulations. Strictly speaking, they may not regulate “the transfer, ownership, possession or transportation of firearms, ammunition or components of firearms or combinations thereof.”

That bit of state code — which includes a grandfather clause for local ordinances enacted before April 8, 1986 — rules out any Metro action with regard to current top-of-mind gun control measures such as banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and mandating universal background checks to close the oft-cited “gun show loophole.” It also prevents proactive measures related to legislation likely to be taken up by the state legislature, including laws requiring employers to allow workers to keep their guns in cars parked on company lots — which could include college campuses — and placing armed security officers in the city’s elementary schools. (For that matter, it would prevent them from expanding gun rights, as well.)

The quite literal lack of local control when it comes to gun laws calls to mind recent battles over state and local authority to approve charter schools and pass anti-discrimination policies. And among Metro officials, it raises hackles just the same.

“Clearly, what’s happening is the state legislature — they believe in local autonomy and local governance, except when it comes to Davidson County making decisions about our local autonomy and our local governance,” At-Large Metro Councilman Jerry Maynard told The City Paper. “As soon as we make decisions about what’s in the best interests of Davidson County, then we have Big Brother — a state legislature that calls themselves conservative — all of a sudden they don’t believe in local governance, they don’t believe in local autonomy.”

Local governments in Chicago, and Washington, D.C., have famously enacted their own strict gun regulations in the past, though outright handgun bans and other regulations in those cities have been struck down by the Supreme Court. There are 42 states that have “broad pre-emption statutes” granting local governments little, if any, authority over firearms and ammunition regulation, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  

Maynard, a speculative 2015 mayoral candidate and president of the council’s Minority Caucus, said he supports the Second Amendment but does wish the city had greater authority to enact “reasonable gun regulations.”

“If the Metro Council had the opportunity to regulate guns, I guarantee you we would not have these gun shows, where individuals could sell guns to individuals without a background check, without the necessary framework in place to make sure that people who are felons, or have mental issues, or have a propensity to commit crimes, they wouldn’t be able to get their hands on those weapons,” he said.

“And if we had local autonomy, and authority to regulate guns, I guarantee you we would not have assault weapons or weapons of war in Davidson County. It’s OK to have a rifle, and a shotgun, and a handgun, but to have assault weapons with magazines and clips that can allow a person to shoot 100 bullets in under two minutes, I don’t think Davidson County would allow that.”

As it is, such firearms restrictions don’t seem likely to appear on the state legislature’s agenda any time soon. Nor is an invitation for local governments to go their own way on the matter. Metro reaction to the state’s expansion of gun rights, however, is not without precedent.

In 2009, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen signed a bill allowing handgun-carry permit holders to take their weapons into state, local and national parks. A deal that would have removed local parks from the legislation fell through, but the bill did contain a provision allowing local governments to opt out. Maynard sponsored a bill to do just that, and the city’s ban on guns in its parks was upheld by a slim margin of four votes.

In lieu of a similar option in the future, Metro officials can do little more than pass memorializing resolutions, as several council members noted with a laugh. That’s what they tried amid the guns-in-parks debate, when Maynard sponsored a resolution along with At-Large Councilwoman Megan Barry opposing the policy. The resolution was signed by Mayor Karl Dean, who said at the time that he believed guns in parks and bars were both bad ideas.

Widely considered a potential 2015 mayoral candidate herself, Barry said she would like to see action at the federal and state level in the wake of the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“My hope is that all of these legislators will use the tragedies that have happened over the last several months as a wakeup call to bring about thoughtful reform for gun legislation,” she told The City Paper last week.

Two council members who will have a more tangible ability to affect gun-related items soon to be working through the General Assembly — limited though it may be, as they belong to the effectively powerless Democratic Party in the legislature — are newly elected state representatives Bo Mitchell and Darren Jernigan.

Both said they’d wait to see the specific proposals, but that they generally oppose guns-in-lots legislation, siding with property owners’ rights to allow or prohibit guns on their property. Jernigan came out strongly against talk of permitting, or encouraging, teachers to come to school armed.

“I’m against arming teachers,” he said. “I think that’s a knee-jerk reaction; I think it’s going a little too far. Even if they volunteer, the last thing I need is a bunch of George Zimmermans going around — if they wanted to be law enforcement, they would have gone that route. But they didn’t. They’re teachers.”

Maynard concurred.

“As a Metro councilperson, I am just adamantly against arming our students or arming our principals or arming our teachers,” he said. “So if we go down that road, and if the state legislature believes that gun rights are that important, they should allow guns into the General Assembly, to the House and the Senate floor.”

Given that Metro is armed with only a voice, and not a vote, when it comes to guns, many have been waiting to hear the mayor’s. Dean is still not a member of the national Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, a fact that has drawn attention. His absence from the list of coalition members, which includes Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton, has resulted in speculation that Dean’s presumed political ambitions have factored into his calculation with regards to involvement with the polarizing group.

Indeed, Gov. Bill Haslam had been a member of the group when he was mayor of Knoxville, but defected during the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2009. Haslam claimed then that the move was based on a leftward shift in the group’s goals, and that he never intended to change gun laws as governor. It was widely assumed, however, that the decision was simply a necessary part of running for statewide office in Tennessee.  

A blue-city mayor in a state that has only gotten redder, Dean has mostly stayed clear of the debate so far. In an emailed statement, Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said he supported “common sense” solutions that balance Second Amendment rights with public safety.

“Mayor Dean recognizes that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to own firearms, but there are also public safety concerns over where and when people can possess guns,” she said. “As the mayor of a big city, he feels he wouldn’t be fulfilling his commitment to public safety if he weren’t concerned about guns in our parks, bars, universities and schools. There are common-sense ways to approach both protecting the Second Amendment and permitting gun regulations that protect public safety.”

28 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 1/7/13 at 4:37

All of which can be condensed into a single line, stating the Metro Council is a joke, so why do tolerate them?

By: FaceBook:Emmett... on 1/7/13 at 7:39

What a poorly written article by a typical "journalist" who doesn't appear to even know what the words mean. This council fools suggesting "a bunch of George Zimmermans" apparently doesn't know that the guy has been convicted of NOTHING. All of this is to be expected of stupid people who make up both the "press" and the government..

By: Radix on 1/7/13 at 11:39

Nice politically motivated opinion piece. This is why I stopped reading the Tennessean. Is NCP next?

By: GuardianDevil01 on 1/8/13 at 5:58

The reason for state preemption of local laws related to our 2nd Amendment rights is obvious to anyone who does not share Mr. Hale's obvious bias and political agenda. Legal gun owners cannot rationally be expected to learn and memorize the laws that would, absent preemption, be passed by various localities throughout the state. Allow localities to pass their own unconstitutional laws regarding the ownership and carrying of firearms and this is exactly what will be required of them. Citizens would be subject to a myriad of confusing and often unclear laws as they travel throughout the state and subsequently would be arrested and convicted for violating laws that they did not know about and had no intention of breaking.

Allow me to echo Radix. Please do not become The Tennessean, NCP.

By: Loner on 1/8/13 at 7:02

Coonskin caps are making a comeback in Tennessee? Buck-skin clothing, a long rifle and Bowie knife are all in fashion in the Volunteer state today?

Functionally, Tennessee has reverted back to a time before the Great Secession...back to the frontier mentality...gotta be something in the aquifer....the folks who run the state are quite retarded and delusional....the electorate today is a drooling mass of secessionist-minded Jesus-zombies....Crockett country is a basket case.

By: Loner on 1/8/13 at 7:54

Since the state government of Tennessee is secessionist-minded, perhaps Metro Nashville should secede from the state of could apply for status as a US Possession...a US Territory...maybe as an Observer State at the UN.

Fight fire with fire....fight madness with madness,

By: Kosh III on 1/8/13 at 8:00

"cannot rationally be expected to learn and memorize the laws that would, absent preemption, be passed by various localities throughout the state.

Yet you're happy with a myriad of local laws relating to alcohol, equal rights(or the lack thereof), education and many others?

By: Jughead on 1/8/13 at 8:10

Jerry Maynard ia a friggin tool--like most of Metro Council. Idiots who have the intellect of 1st graders.

It's the criminals---not the lawful folks---who are doing the killing.

By: Jughead on 1/8/13 at 8:11

The liberals are coming hard at gun rights---just like Hitler did. It is time for good people to fight back and say "no" to asshat liberals.

By: yogiman on 1/8/13 at 8:12

The only ones entering a school to murder the children will be people of mental disorder so they place an armed guard at the entrance. What about all other doors? The criminals will seek the easiest entries, won't they?

So knowing the school will have a "policeman", won't their concentration be to kill the officer first?

Must the officer consider every one entering the school a possible murderer?

Of all of the mass murderers I've seen or read about in the news or seen on TV news have been shown to have a mental disorder; either on a particular medicine or recently off of it.

The schools will have to be redesigned with a safety mode on entrances and exits.

It's a shame schools will cease to be one of a child's best memories.

By: yogiman on 1/8/13 at 8:16

Well, Loner me boy, I'll take Tennessee over Nu Yawk at any time. Just look at the kind of people living there (hint..hint).

By: tbulgarino on 1/8/13 at 8:21


This article is written by a fool and with extensive quotes from a bigger fool. I may reconsider my family's 8-year residency in downtown Nashville if this fool is ever elected.

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
- Winston Churchill

By: wataboutbob on 1/8/13 at 10:27

From a friend in Washington DC: "Gun control has not worked in D.C. The only people who have guns are criminals. We have the strictest gun laws in the nation and one of the highest murder rates. It's quicker to pull your Smith and Wesson than to dial 911 if you're being robbed."

By: Left-of-Local on 1/8/13 at 10:32


Same old comments driven by left intellect and right parroting of NRA lies. Moving on. (And keeping my eyes peeled for crazed rednecks with firearms...)

By: yucchhii on 1/8/13 at 10:34

Hey JUGHEAD, you shouldn't be commenting on any "GUN CONTROL" because you have no compassion for the homeless and you've stated right out that you would just assume see all homeless people die...should we give YOU a gun? You are the people you speak of..the IDIOTS!! Next, it not an issue of "GUN CONTROL", it's an issue of "IDIOTS WHO HAVE GUNS" Control. People like Jughead should NOT be allowed to HAVE A GUN!! JUGHEAD ALSO BELIEVES THE BEING AN ALCOHOLIC IS A CHOICE! HE DOES NOT BELIEVE IT TO BE A DISEASE! He has NO compassion for people who have less than he. I have seen his comments and this is NO exaggeration!! So, you can see where JUGHEAD is a prime example to use for the comments on this article!! He can say all the UNCOMPASSIONATE THINGS HE WANTS ABOUT ME WHEN HE SEES THIS COMMENT, but it doesn’t change the TRUTH!! Like I said, it’s an issue of “IDIOTS WHO HAVE GUNS” control.

By: Loner on 1/8/13 at 11:50

We liberals are coming for your weapons, boys....we will pry your cold dead fingers from your triggers....and your wangs....better relieve yourselves now, before it's too late.

By: Jughead on 1/8/13 at 12:33

@Loner: are funny. You liberals will disappear like cowardly maggots when the sleeping giant rises. I look forward to you attempting to pry anything from me. Tell you family to bring a body bag, dirtball.

By: wasaw on 1/8/13 at 1:36

I'm still waiting for "box cutter" control. Didn't we lose over 3000 Americans in the space of an hour of one day, on September 11th, 2001? Where were the tree hugging liberals after that one? You can still purchase a box cutter anywhere in American, even if you are a terrorist Muslim. Where are the Finstein's, Berry's, and Jernigan's on the box cutter issue?

Oh, and why are cities with the largest number of gun related murders located in states that have the most restrictive gun laws? I can only surmise that the gun control laws only affect the LAWFUL possession of gun ownership. The government will NEVER stop the illegal ownership of guns. Have you ever given any thought as to why, if our national tree huggers wish to control gun ownership, why don't they start with the very men who protect them. Why doesn't he skinny muslim disarm his Secret Service detail, and harry reid disarm his armed detail. Lead by example gentlemen!

By: Blanketnazi2 on 1/8/13 at 2:42

Many of the states with the strongest gun laws also have the lowest gun death rates nationwide. Conversely, many states with the weakest gun laws have the highest gun death rates. While more research is needed to determine the precise relationship between state gun laws and gun death rates, the data supports the common sense conclusion that gun laws are a significant factor in a state’s rate of gun deaths.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 1/8/13 at 2:43

Also, when raking the most dangerous cities in the U.S. - Chicago comes in 79th. Illinois has strict gun laws.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 1/8/13 at 2:44

Nashville ranks 49th.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 1/8/13 at 3:24

Homicides Increase After States Adopt ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws, Study Finds

A new study has found a 7 to 9 percent increase in homicides in states that adopt ‘stand your ground’ law. The study by Texas A&M economist Mark Hoekstra also also found the laws have “zero deterrence” effect.....

Results indicate the laws do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and non-negligent manslaughters.

By: mslassie on 1/8/13 at 3:41

Ms Lassie

Jughead (what an appropriate moniker), speaking as a typically paranoid and misinformed gun-hugger says: "The liberals are coming hard at gun rights---just like Hitler did. It is time for good people to fight back and say "no" to asshat liberals."

None of this is true, of course, especially this Hitler myth that the fright-wingers love to spread like manure.

By: Ask01 on 1/8/13 at 8:38

Loner, I do love the idea of Nashville seceeding from Tennessee and becoming a territory or perhaps protectorate of the United States.

After Tennessee seceeds, Nashville Davidson County, since it is a Metro government set up, could be like Berlin, situated deep inside East Germany, a lone island of freedom surrounded by bloodthirsty communists. (Sorry, I just got a little carried away.)

Nashville could be an island of sanity in the middle of a sea of inbred knuckle draggers, wearing, as you describe coon skin caps and buckskins, carrying automatic weapons disguised as muzzle loaders.

By: CrimesDown on 1/8/13 at 9:38

I was talking to an elected official here in Nashville that I know. The person thinks all guns including shotguns, rifles, revolvers and semi-auto pistols should be banned. He/she also thinks the government should take everybody's guns. I asked the person if they thought criminals were going to just give up their guns and he/she said "no, but if they use a gun in a crime they could be punished more severely. I told him/her that people that use guns to commit a crime are already punished more severely and it makes no difference. I asked what about the second amendment? He/she said the police are here to protect citizens and we should let them do their job. This person also said there was zero chance that U.S. citizens would ever need guns to protect themselves from an over-reaching government. I asked, what about all the times in history when they were needed? The person said, "That's ancient history and could never happen here again." I finally told the person that he/she was insane and ended the conversation.

I don't know how uninformed or typical this person is, but we need to be way more careful who we elect to office.

By: James Arthur on 1/8/13 at 10:17

People who would deny the right to bear arms, are denying one of the most basic human rights--the right of self-defense. There simply is no more fundamental right.

Such people are saying that a 100 lb. woman being raped by some giant man in a dark alley has no right to defend herself. The only recourse they offer her is to hope he doesn't kill her, and to trust society to catch and punish him after she's dead.

Speaking of rape, checking a few stats on Wikipedia allows one to compute that the UK rape rate is nearly 5x ours. We had roughly 90,000 rapes in 2008. They had 85,000 in 2007, however, they only have 63 million people. If we had their rate, that would create an additional 319,000 rapes in America, per year.

The Founders who designed America provided guns as a way of protecting freedom itself. Part of that freedom--possibly the most vital--is the right to defend one's own life.

By: Left-of-Local on 1/9/13 at 9:09

We lost people to a box cutter because Americans are pussies and passive and lazy. We didn't have one person on that plan who was willing to conquer fear and take a box cutter to the face to save some lives. Rewind to the 40s, and those hijackers would have had the shit beaten out of them by a bunch of hard-working Americans - bare-handed.

We are weak, and pathetic. Clinging to guns as a crutch for not wanting to get our hands dirty. And I am just as guilty as the rest. Everyone should come to terms with that.

By: Loner on 1/9/13 at 9:02

This board is past its sell-by date, but I had to reply to Jughead and Ask01.

Actually, Jughead's comment does not merit a response; besides, not much, in the line of logic and reason, will penetrate the jug....when I was a boy, we used empty old jugs for target practice...taking intellectual aim at Jughead is not very sporting or manly....and the jug may be collectible some day, they don't make them like that anymore....the Jug is an example of vintage American crockery.

Ask01, I actually did laugh out loud at your 8:38 post..."carrying automatic weapons disguised as muzzle loaders"...great image and definitely funny.....sadly, there is a grain of truth in there; if somebody manufactured an automatic, disguised as a muzzle-loader, there would be a big market for the piece.....especially in Crockett Country, the Coonskin Cap Capital of the World.

And Left-of-local should join the gang that regularly posts on the up for debate board....actually, we could use more right-wingers as regulars there too; as it stands, all the righties there are whacky birther trolls....we need diversity in trollage....for the entertainment value.