April 16, 2014 Politics Tennessee Dodged A Bullet This Week Having lunch with my mother and sister the other day in a little restaurant in the south end of the county, an interesting topic of conversation arose. My mother, no stranger to current events at 84, was interested in my take on the new gun law making news in Tennessee. I had been following it but was unsure of the technicalities of the legislation. So, seeing a friendly looking gentleman at the next table, I asked him politely if he knew of the controversy. The man explained what the hoopla was about so that we could understand, sort of. I looked up the exact information when I got home. It seems that the Tennessee Senate passed Bill 2424 by a count of 25-2 with no debate that removed the permit and training requirement to “open carry” a gun in Tennessee. The previous statute required a handgun carry permit to carry a gun either openly or concealed. This permit’s prerequisites included a gun safety course taught by a certified instructor, a criminal background check, and a fee. With the new law, the permit and training requirement would have only been in place for “concealed carry.” After he finished describing the major points of the legislation, he added, “I’m not a fan of this. But,” he continued, “I do believe in concealed carry.” “Why don’t you like the open carry change?” I asked several times, trying to understand as he elaborated. “It would be like this,” he said. “People would be bringing guns into businesses all over the place just for the show of it. Showing off is how people get killed. Suppose someone causes trouble 30 feet away from you. You pull out your gun and shoot. You will probably go to jail.” I was animated by this point. I recalled to him how I had seen a fellow bring a gun into a local fast food restaurant where my teenage daughter worked. It was slung on his hip like he was Wyatt Earp. I was disturbed—disturbed that my daughter had to see his weapon and wonder if he were going to rob her. Disturbed that I had to have a nagging discomfort about gun safety as I was trying to enjoy my weekend lunch. Then the man said, “I could be carrying a gun right now for all you know.” My mother, sister, and I looked at each other in stunned silence. I piped up, “Well, are you?” “I carry it everywhere I go. I don’t leave home without it. When I have breakfast with the locals in the mornings, most of us are packing. You just don’t know it.” All I could muster was “Why? Why do you feel that you have to carry guns in this county with so little crime, especially here in this little café?” His answer is something I suspect justifies most others’ excuses. He said, “If someone is breaking into my house when I come home, I would rather be able to confront him armed than unarmed. I’ve had a carry permit for years.” There was my answer. People are afraid. Folks like this man believe in the imminent danger of someone out to get them, their loved ones, or their possessions. That kind of fear is bolstered by talk radio and other media outlets. He and his friends believe that if people can conceal a weapon, then robbers will hesitate before holding up stores and restaurants due to the fear of the “stand your ground” justification. I applaud my lunch conversationalist for his desire that people who want to open carry weapons fall under the same scrutiny as those with concealed carry permits. He is right that the “showing off” factor could be dangers and disconcerting at best. But I am also left with two other thoughts. One, thinking that taking a weapon around with you in public places is somehow protective to you and detrimental to perpetrators is a naïve notion. It smacks of the frontier lawlessness mentality where every citizen can assess a crisis situation, use a gun accordingly, and not go to jail. If someone were robbing a Subway (a big if), waving your gun with bystanders in the room will as likely get people killed as diffuse the situation. You think you are reasonable and can shoot? What about the guy who passes a background check and can carry his weapon the same as you, but he’s mentally ill or can’t fire a shot and hit the broad side of a barn? This isn’t the rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ Wild West, after all. No one, other than law enforcement, should be able to carry guns, concealed or unconcealed, into public places. The fellow in the café above admitted that if he pulled out a gun and shot someone attempting to rob the place, he could go to jail. I can’t grasp, then, why the gun in the first place? When the founding fathers offered protection from a tyrannical government in the Second Amendment, they were referring to tyranny as they had experienced with the Crown, not the bogeyman hiding behind corners. And their weapon of defense was primarily the musket, not an AK 47 or even a 357 Magnum. You can stretch the 2nd Amendment as far as the eye can see, but you can’t inject the rationale for these or any weapons being carried in restaurants or other public places. Have your guns! For heaven’s sakes we own guns! Just understand that gun ownership is a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility. Legislators around the country are wasting precious taxpayer time and expense trying to chip away at gun laws that were established to protect innocent civilians and prevent shootings that are leaving school children and the public at risk every day. Thank goodness we dodged a bullet on this one when it was defeated in the House this week, but at least the controversy spurred conversation among the population (if not in the Senate). Somehow, legislators must get the message that citizens deserve more protection from gun proliferation, not less.