It hurts to say this, but I`m embarrassed by what` going on in my home state of Tennessee. I`m even more disappointed by the recent actions of Governor Phil Bredesen. But these developments offer some important lessons for Right-to-Carry reform nationwide.
Right-to-Carry is not a new concept. It` been the law in Tennessee for more than ten years. A 1998 article in the Tennessean newspaper carried the incredulous headline, "Gun law hasn`t led to carnage"--as if this were a big surprise.
The pattern is familiar. When Right-to-Carry is proposed anywhere, our opponents whip up fear and hysteria about "blood in the streets."
Of course, the mayhem never materializes. When Right-to-Carry passes, only a small percentage of the population applies for a permit. By definition, these people are law-abiding.
But that small percentage of the public is enough to change the odds against predatory criminals. And even the media are starting to get it. Another Tennessee newspaper, the Commercial Appeal, ran an article last year that looked at the increase in justifiable homicides, from 11 in 2006 to 32 in 2007. A Memphis concealed-carry instructor had a simple explanation for the reporter: "The thugs have started running into people who can protect themselves."
When first passed, Right-to-Carry laws are often imperfect. To get enough votes for passage, sponsors often have to carve out certain locations where Right-to-Carry will not be allowed. So we have our work cut out for us, in Tennessee and elsewhere, to reform these arbitrary lists of supposedly "gun free zones"--which are really just safe zones for criminals.
Tennessee` original law banned lawful carry in any restaurant that serves alcohol. "Guns and alcohol don`t mix," our opponents warn. And while that` true on the target range or in the hunting fields, our opponents really believe that guns don`t "mix" with anything. And, as with the concept of Right-to-Carry itself, they are ignoring the experience of the 39 states that don`t ban lawful carry in restaurants that serve alcohol.
The debate in Tennessee followed the familiar pattern this year. The legislature passed a bill to allow lawful carry in restaurants (as long as the permit holder doesn`t drink), and the media launched into predictions of carnage--again. Having lost sight of recent history, Governor Phil Bredesen capitulated to the media and vetoed the bill during a staged, camera-friendly event.
The legislature quickly voted to override the governor` veto. Then, the legislature went a step further and passed another law to permit lawful carry in state parks. But to avoid another veto, the legislature included a provision allowing localities to "opt out" of lawful carry in their own municipal parks.
Now, debates have erupted all over the state about whether localities should opt out of the parks law, and whether restaurant owners should post their establishments as off-limits. Governor Bredesen` veto has set the tone for this debate, so we have him to thank for the overreactions from cities such as Memphis and Nashville. Those two cities lead a long list of municipalities that may "opt out" their parks, resulting in a patchwork of bans.
Nashville and Memphis are pushing restaurant owners to go even further. The Memphis city council passed a resolution that encourages restaurant owners to post their establishments as off-limits. As a result, the group managing the popular Beale Street has promised that their restaurants will post signs and "metal detector wands will be used at every entrance." That` certainly not the Tennessee hospitality I grew up with.
The issue has even gone to court, with a bizarre lawsuit claiming that the new law illegally promotes "vigilantism" and violates a "fundamental right to be free from gun violence"--a right that even the plaintiffs` lawyer admits is a new one. (He helpfully points to a constitutional provision on the issue. Unfortunately for him, it` in South Africa` constitution, not Tennessee`.)
Clearly, our work in Tennessee is not done, nor is it done in other states facing similar issues. We will return next year, and every year if we have to, until Right-to-Carry is truly honored. We will point out the facts--and work to defeat candidates who have bought into the hype.
Eventually, we`ll prevail. But the fight will never be easy. Facts can dispel the fears of legislators, but not those that afflict opponents of self-defense. As I`ve said before, our opponents suffer from a fear of change, a fear of the unknown, and--strangest of all--a fear of their fellow citizens and neighbors.
The first part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt` quote is the famous one, but the rest is equally applicable: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." As we advance the right of self-defense through Right-to-Carry, the only people who should retreat into fear are violent criminals.