Commentary: Gun Obsession Muddies Legislative Agenda

(Ron Bailey/Getty Images)
(Ron Bailey/Getty Images)

Our state is struggling with a public health crisis, racial injustice issues, inadequate rural health care, record unemployment, and slumping tax revenues to sustain public schools.  So, what is a big focus of our state and local government?  Yup, guns.

As May came to a close, Knox County Commission (a body on which I once served) passed a resolution declaring our county a “Second Amendment Constitutional County.”  Eight commissioners voted for it.  Two abstained.  One one, Evelyn Gill, voted against it.  She’s currently the only Democrat and the only African American on the commission, and one of only two women.  Even one of the yes votes, former commission chair Brad Anders, thought it both bad precedent and unnecessary, as the county really cannot ignore federal or state laws.

Commissioners Carson Daily and Richie Beeler nevertheless pressed forward, cobbling together many very dubious interpretations of law and history—as is common in these cookie-cutter blurts of right-wing angst.

The most recent tally I could find indicates that 60 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have adopted some sort of Second Amendment Sanctuary (or similar Second Amendment related) resolution.  The language often is designed to mock the serious efforts to limit local cooperation only to what is legally required in anti-immigrant actions aimed at undocumented workers.  The resolutions also appear to be prompted by some popular gun safety legislation, notably those in Virginia, such as: expanded background checks, one-gun-a-month purchase limits, and extreme risk protective orders.

This summer marks ten years since I last served on Knox County Commission, and twelve years since I survived being shot at in my own church.  On July 27, 2008, a gunman blasted his shotgun into the congregation at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, killing my friend Greg McKendry and a visitor, Linda Kraeger, there for the special kids’ performance version of the play Annie.  Six others were injured.

This summer marks ten years since I last served on Knox County Commission, and twelve years since I survived being shot at in my own church. At no point in this depressing chronology did I sponsor any resolution to express support for gun safety laws. There was no point in dragging these state and national issues into our City County Building. 

The area also suffered soon thereafter on August 21, 2008, when a student at Central High School shot and killed another student in the school cafeteria.  As a commissioner, I also joined in the grim task of consoling the Inskip Elementary community when in February 2010 a disgruntled teacher shot and grievously injured the principal and assistant principal.

At no point in this depressing chronology did I sponsor any resolution, largely symbolic and likely doomed to defeat, to express support for gun safety laws—even changes with proven records of success.  There was no point in dragging these state and national issues into our City County Building.  One wishes the sponsors of “gun sanctuary” laws exercised similar restraint.

Yet, even in the state legislature reason and restraint are in short supply.  Take the case of State Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough).  He introduced a resolution declaring, “that we recognize the primary purpose of the Second Amendment is to protect our freedoms.  To do so, citizens must be able to keep and bear arms that are at least equal to those of their government’s basic infantry unit.  In the year 2020, we recognize that those include semi-automatic AR-15s, AK-47s, and similar firearms.”

Rep. Micah Van Huss (Official photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Micah Van Huss (Official photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

In approaching this subject as a matter of people protecting themselves from their own government, Van Huss appears to have brought an AR-15 to an armed drone fight.  It would make a lot more sense if he were to tone down his rhetorical excess and realize he’s part of a government.  That government would better serve the people of Tennessee by actually addressing public policy change within our charge and capability, preferably guided by reflection, research, and reason.

Ironically, many of the same people who heavily arm themselves out of fear about an unspecified threat to their families will not wear a mask to protect their families from a documented threat.

Returning to my county commission days, shortly after my election I went to a Nashville conference to inform newly-elected persons about our new jobs.  Famously gun-toting fellow commissioner-elect Greg “Lumpy” Lambert drove with me and commissioner-elect Phil Ballard as passengers.  Ballard sat back in amusement as Lambert kept trying to engage me on gun issues.  I only engaged a bit and reminded him that our job was more local concerns; mine were more funding for schools, and greater attention to land use sprawl.

I know it is possible to put aside these gun matters and work together.  Lambert and I co-sponsored a successful amendment of our electoral recall laws.  I worked with another right-wing commissioner on pressuring a poorly performing Medicaid contractor.  I led a group of three commissioners in writing a better county vehicles policy.

It’s time to put away the gun obsession and get to work.