If Tim Chavez were still with us, he might just be aglow about how recent gun legislation — first at the national and state levels, and now locally — has given rise to a refreshing unpredictability among elected officials who have been forced to pick a side. It turns out that, like the late, complicated Chavez, even some lawmakers can sometimes defy classification.
In May, Tennessee’s senior U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander — the plaid-shirted, gun-bearing Republican outdoorsman, mind you — reminded moderates why for so long he’s been their guy. While he ultimately lost the cause, he demonstrated a significant amount of political courage by casting the only Republican vote against allowing guns in national parks.
“I have consistently been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, but this legislation goes too far — further than President Reagan, further than President Bush and further than Tennessee law,” Alexander said then.
But that last part wasn’t true for long. Alexander’s daring vote and the assured utterance of explanation that followed happened before our state lawmakers got to work at the Capitol evading the real issues and obsessing about the phony ones. (They’re the predictable part of this little narrative.)
Somehow, in a haze of perverted priorities inspired by a combined commitment to their misreading of the Constitution, probably some Jack Daniel’s and no doubt Jesus, they saw voter mutiny on the horizon if they didn’t immediately pass a law saying Bubba could carry his concealed .45-caliber Colt into parks and burger-and-beer joints.
Of course, Bubba’s not supposed to quaff while he’s packing, the bill’s fine print says, but then the General Assembly didn’t see the need to complicate matters with provisions that might actually prevent such a scenario.
But then, this summer, Gov. Phil Bredesen — who’s been hunting and messing with guns since he was a teenager and whose commitment to the Second Amendment borders on veneration — vetoed the aforementioned “guns in bars” legislation, saying that carrying “a concealed weapon into a crowded bar at midnight on a Saturday night defies common sense.”
In a letter to state House Speaker Kent Williams, he recalled an NRA gun safety class from his high school days. “A basic tenet taught at that class was this: ‘Guns and alcohol don't mix.’ ”
As part of legislative deal making, the governor signed the guns in parks bill, but it was grudging, and as he did it, he urged local governments to “opt out.”
So there it was: a duly elected Republican senator and a conservative Democratic governor who Republicans love so much that they didn’t even bother trying to deny him a second term drew a line in the sand and said it’s possible to overextend gun rights.
In the recounting, reporters got about as close as they ever do to political hero worship, seeing as how positions demonstrating backbone and principle come all too infrequently to the scribes on the Hill. (The notoriously cynical Jeff Woods, my friend and former colleague at the Scene, is still recovering from the occasion of having to write nice things about Alexander. The wretching is beginning to subside, though he’s still a little jaundiced.)
Of course, both Alexander and Bredesen, whose guns-in-bars veto was swiftly overridden, were losers in this micro culture war. Their battles have now migrated to municipalities all over the state that are, as the governor suggested, frantically considering the opt out strategy to keeps guns out of their parks.
Which brings us to our Metro Council and yet more political pliancy — which is, again, refreshing. Whenever voters default to regarding their local legislative body as a swarm of small-minded hacks, they should picture the likes of East Nashville Council member Mike Jameson, who’s such a committed liberal that his bone marrow would drive a Prius if it could, staying up late reading John Lott’s much-quoted treatise, More Guns, Less Crime, the gist of which is, well, obvious.
Of the guns-in-parks legislation before the Council, Jameson, among a few others, is struggling. “Unfortunately, I’m learning there is truly an avalanche of data on both sides of that specific issue, with no demonstrable consensus. Sorting through the data may be beyond my abilities.”
That is to say, Jameson is exercising his mind and not just his knee cartilage. Being thoughtful and counterintuitive is about all voters can’t ask for.
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