(Photo taken Feb. 3, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee, by Karen Pulfer Focht.)
(Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

(Update: The Clarksville City Council voted 8-4 Thursday night to approve the resolution to make the city a Second Amendment sanctuary.)

A resolution introduced in the Clarksville City Council would proclaim the city as a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” as the state considers legislation that would make the same declaration across all of Tennessee.

The resolution, on which the council will vote Thursday evening, was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Trisha Butler and Jason Knight, both of whom were sworn into office in January.

The resolution is a symbolic gesture from the councilmembers meant to show the Clarksville community that the city supports its residents’ right to bear arms, Butler and Knight said. Both said they got requests from constituents to consider such a statement, as some residents feared their firearm rights would be infringed upon, especially now that a Democrat is in the White House.

Clarksville council member Jason Knight, Ward 5 (Photo: cityofclarksville.com)
Clarksville council member Jason Knight, Ward 5 (Photo: cityofclarksville.com)

“In my mind, this will give the community a sense of ease to know that their local government is supporting their constitutional right to carry,” Knight said.

Montgomery County, which encompasses Clarksville, was declared a Second Amendment sanctuary last year. The county commissioners voted 18-3 to pass the resolution, joining the approximately 60 counties in Tennessee — including Knox, Rutherford and Sevier — that have adopted similar resolutions. 

In April 2019, Polk County became the first in the state to declare itself a gun sanctuary, and in less than two years, legislators across Tennessee rushed to declare their counties one, too. 

However, because most of these declarations —like the resolution introduced in Clarksville—are purely a symbolic show of support, if a federal gun law passed, and the county or city believed it was a violation of the Second Amendment, there’s not much, if anything, that could be done. 

If there was a perceived violation of the community’s Second Amendment rights, the city would have “no recourse,” Knight said.

That’s why Eric Gregory, a Clarksville resident and self-described Second Amendment supporter, thinks the council should be focusing on other issues.

Gregory said that while he believes firearm ownership is a right that must be protected, he believes actions should have a “real purpose.” He said he appreciates that his elected officials have similar thoughts on gun rights, but he said that if the resolution passes, “our Second Amendment rights will not be any more protected in reality.”

“I do think that the current state of the federal administration leaves us at risk for infringement on our Second Amendment rights,” he said, “but I don’t believe for a second that this resolution will change that.”

Montgomery County, in which Clarksville is located, is already one of about 60 Tennessee counties out of 95 that has voted to become a Second Amendment Sanctuary city. Even some Second Amendment supporters acknowledge the designation does little to protect gun rights and may not be constitutional.  

Butler said even though she thinks gun rights are secure in Tennessee and knows the resolution is just symbolic, she put it forward because she heard concerns from her constituents, and her job is to represent their voices in the council.

“I think that you have to be able to have the discussion, because you can’t just invalidate people’s concerns,” Butler said. “If nothing more, At least this resolution has caused the discussion.”

That discussion is happening on the state level as well. Last summer, a resolution introduced by former state Rep. Micah Van Huss to reaffirm that “Tennessee is a sanctuary for the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms” passed the Tennessee House. However, it did not move forward in the state Senate.

Plus, like the local resolutions, that was just a statement of support. New legislation introduced in the 112th Tennessee General Assembly by Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City, is a bill hoping to become law, he pointed out. 

Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

“My goal is for the State of Tennessee to put into law exactly our intent as it relates to the Second Amendment,” Campbell said. 

The Tennessee Second Amendment Sanctuary Act, put forward by Campbell, states that any federal “law, treaty, executive order, rule, or regulation” that violates the Second Amendment “is null, void, and unenforceable in this state.” It also declares that Tennessee is “prohibited from using any public funds, personnel, or property to enforce, administer, or cooperate with the enforcement or administration” of such a law.

This wording — and the name of the bill itself — mirrors legislation in some cities where local resources cannot be used to enforce federal immigration laws. 

Campbell, Butler and Knight all cite HR 127, the Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing and Registration Act, as a reason gun rights proponents are alarmed. The bill, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, calls for the licensing of firearm and ammunition possession and the registration of firearms. The legislation would also prohibit the possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices and any ammunition that is 0.50 caliber or greater.

I do not want our right to carry a firearm to be extinct or on the endangered species list,” Campbell said.

While similar laws have moved forward in other states — the Missouri House recently passed the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” — opponents have pointed out that such legislation could nullify federal laws such as the one that prevents people convicted of domestic abuse from owning a firearm.

It’s also unclear whether such legislation is even constitutional itself. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution states that, generally, federal law supersedes state law. However, proponents of these Second Amendment sanctuary laws say that doesn’t apply if said federal law is unconstitutional.

Campbell’s bill, HB 0928, has been placed on the Civil Justice Subcommittee’s calendar for March 9.