On March 8, 2016, Sen. Todd Gardenhire helped kill so-called constitutional carry in Tennessee in a Senate judiciary committee vote. Or nonvote.
Sen. Gardenhire declined to say yay or nay on the proposal that would have allowed all law-abiding citizens of Tennessee to carry a firearm on their person without giving first an OK and a license from Gov. Haslam’s department of safety and homeland security. Exploring the defeat in the general assembly is John Harris, the volunteer director of Tennessee Firearms Association. He is an attorney who has fought for the right to bear arms for two decades. He gave this interview Friday, March 11, 2016, and you can hear it here from AM 1240 Hot News Talk Radio in Chattanooga.
Gun rights gain across U.S.
David Tulis I have on the phone a man I’d like you to hear a little more about. His name is John Harris. He is an attorney in Nashville and has been a volunteer — not being paid — a volunteer for the Tennessee Firearms Association for two decades. He has a full-time law practice. The TFA has as the newspaper will tell you a perennial project [laughter] and that perennial project is to get out of committee in the general assembly. It’s called for short “constitutional carry.” John, what is constitutional carry, and why should my listener care about it, and what has happened to that measure this week?
John Harris Constitutional carry is a generic term for the concept that because the right to own firearms is a fundamental human right according to the U.S. supreme court that is neither created by nor subject to regulation by government entities, that you should not be required to pass a test, pay a fee or undergo a background check to exercise that right any more than you should have to pay a fee or pass a test to exercise the right to vote.
Now significantly there are as many as 11 states including Vermont which has had this for over two centuries that already have constitutional carry — West Virginia just enacted it last week and Kansas and Maine enacted it last year. And on top of that we have about 29 states that have a version of constitutional carry called permitless open carry. And every state that touches Tennessee except for Georgia already has that version of the law.
Tennessee laws backward
So Tennessee is really pretty far behind all the other states and certainly behind all Southern states in allowing the free exercise of second amendment rights for law abiding citizens. That’s why we think it’s important in the Tennessee Firearms Association to get Tennessee up out of the muck of regulatory quagmires and enact constitutional carry so that our citizens don’t have to come off their hip with dollars and fees and checks to exercise the right to defend themselves.
David You’re saying, John Harris, that the Tennessee citizen today has to abase himself and humiliate himself before the regulatory state to exercise — not a right anymore but a privilege.
John Harris Yes, it’s not even a privilege. Tennessee actually classifies the handgun permit as a recreational license and they do that so they can revoke it if someone for example is behind on child support payments. So they don’t classify it even as a privilege. They classify it as a recreational opportunity.
David Well, is that less than a privilege — a recreational opportunity — or more?
John Harris Yes it is [less]
David So what happened this week in Nashville, John?
Gardenhire shows gun rights credentials
John Harris This year as in a few prior years we had a bill running by Sen. Mark Green from the Parksville area and Rep. Judd Matheny that would have implemented by changing a handful of laws the doctrine of constitutional carry in Tennessee.
Now we already passed the small version of that in 2014 so that you don’t have to have a permit now to transport loaded firearms — rifles, shotguns and pistols — in a personal vehicle. So we’ve had it for about a year and a half in terms of transport. This law would have allowed you to get out of your car and carry the gun in your pocket and that’s what was up this week.
It was in the Senate judiciary on Tuesday and going into that Senate judiciary hearing we understood we had a six to three vote. There are nine members on the committee.
One of those votes that was reported to us by the Senate sponsor Mark Green was Sen. Todd Gardenhire. He had been classified as a yes vote on the bill. There was quite a bit of surprise when the roll call was taken on the bill that Sen. Gardenhire didn’t even have the wherewithal to vote yes or no on the bill.
He voted pass.
That raises the question are his constituents electing a public steward or a public spectator. Because anybody can go up there to watch and not cast a vote. Senators, however, have taken an oath to be a public representative, that’s what he wanted to do. But he’s up there as a spectator, it appears.
David What was the effect of Sen. Gardenhire’s twiddling his thumbs in that meeting?
John Harris It was a 4-4-1 vote and he was the one abstaining vote. Had he voted yes as he was expected to vote, this bill would have passed out of committee and would have proceeded on toward the Senate floor this week.
He singlehandedly managed to stop all citizens of the state from having their elected officials debate whether we should adopt constitutional carry on the Senate floor. He has effectively by failing even to to cast a vote disenfranchised all of the citizens who have elected senators in any other part of the state because now their elected officials don’ even get a voice on this.
Gardenhire’s 2 reasons
David John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association, what reasons do yo know of that Todd Gardenhire give for abstaining from voting.
John Harris To my knowledge he has not give any publicly at this point. Even the news report that I saw in the Times Free Press recently just indicates that he denies that he told Sen. Green that he was going to vote yes for the bill. He doesn’t give any reason why he would oppose or feel that, as I read his reports, that constitutional carry is inappropriate. At the same time he makes the declaration that is patently unfounded that he’s a strong supporter of the second amendment. What he says can’t be reconciled with his voting record.
David I had a brief interview with Todd Gardenhire yesterday, the senator who killed constitutional carry, and he said — he checked his notes to see how to answer my question. I caught him just as he was going into a meeting (and he was trying to gulp down a bowl of cereal, he said later in a text). But the reasons he — he didn’t want to vote no because that would have offended the people who support the right to bear arms. That was point one.
And then the two reasons he offered to my listener was that he didn’t vote yes because, A, the measure did not account for people who are in, or who are were in, drug treatment programs and then, B, the measure seemed to have nothing to say regarding those who are under an order of separation or an order of protection. In other words, a man or a woman involved in a domestic dispute of some kind that has reached the public’s notice, or the judge’s notice, and there has been an issuance of an order of separation. Those are the two reasons he gave to me as to why your proposed measure from the Tennessee Firearms Association didn’t fly, in his mind. Can you address those points?
Law already addresses Gardenhire’s beefs
John Harris Oh, absolutely. His first argument that he didn’t want to offend people who believe strongly in this? Come on. That begs the credibility. Because what difference does it make if you vote no and kill the bill from going forward or if your standing there as a spectator as opposed to a steward — and fail to vote at all? Either way, you’ve effectively killed the bill moving forward, and he knew what he was doing. His other two excuses are just totally misplaced.
The bill specifically says, using the almost identical language from 2014, that in order for you to be able to carry a gun under this concept of constitutional carry that you would have to “legally possess” the firearm that that you must be legally able to possess the firearm in addition to being age 21.
Which means that someone under state or federal law that can’t possess a gun therefore can’t carry it. Now, my understanding is that people under orders of protection which have a specific provision in them that they can possess a firearm would fall outside of this bill
David — the definition
John Harris — that Sen. Green was running. You don’t need to put duplicative language in a bill if other laws already address the issue.
What this emphasizes is that Sen. Gardenhire may not as an elected official understand the framework within which he is working and that is — how other laws impact this.
I think that can be highlighted by any of your listeners who watch the video. Sen. Gardenhire never asked a question. Never raised a point. Never offered an amendment on any of these issues that he’s offering up now.
David What about the second point regarding those who are in drug treatment? What about that question?
John Harris Yeah, yeah. Under federal and state laws if you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol you are a prohibited person. So they could not legally carry the firearm under this law because of the existing — and I mean dating back to like 1968 — the statutory prohibitions of people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs being able to carry firearms.
That’s already illegal.
David The Tennessee Code Annotated — the implication in the nonvoting by Sen. Gardenhire is the code doesn’t address the questions he raised and therefore he won’t vote because these questions are not explicitly mentioned in the measure you’ve drafted and revised for several years and presented
John Harris I think he’s just blowing smoke right now because he didn’t bring that up with the sponsor. He didn’t bring that up with us. And he certainly never raised it during the discussion of the debate on this bill in the Senate this week.
Haslam breaks promise
David What have you heard, John Harris, regarding the governor’s complicity — the governor’s agreement — with the sort of pro-state perspective of Todd Gardenhire? What has the governor said about this bill?
John Harris What the governor — keep in mind when he campaigned for governor the first time in 2010 he promised that he would sign constitutional carry into law in Tennessee if elected governor. You can see that video if you go to the Tennessee Firearms Association website. Tennesseefirearms.com. And then you just do a backslash Haslam. And you can see the video where he makes the promise, “I’ll support it.”
Now what the governor has done since he came into office? He has by manipulating the department of safety’s responses to bills, he has made every effort possible to kill any bill that would have relaxed laws prohibiting people from carrying firearms and in particular laws like this that have an atmosphere of constitutional carry. So he made a promise to get elected and he has done everything in his power to seek that those types of laws never reach his desk.
David There’s a quote from Gov. Haslam reported this week in which he said effectively *** that he didn’t support constitutional carry because, look, we have a department of safety and homeland security program that has 550,000 concealed carry gun permit holders already; they’ve been doing fine work in that department, which of course is his department, and I really don’t see disturbing that. What is that telling my listener, John Harris?
John Harris That is telling your listener several things if they know the additional facts. First off, this bill would not have changed the handgun permitting system. We don’t want to get rid of it, although we want to reduce the cost. Because it’s important to have handgun permits available for reciprocity purposes
David — What does that mean?
Overcharging the public
John Harris — For someone who wants to go get a handgun permit in Tennessee, between the cost of the application and taking the class and buying the ammunition that you have to have in the class to range quality, someone’s going to spend about F$200 and as much as F$300, depending on which class they take to go get the permit. Should we be charging people those kinds of expenses to exercise a fundamental constitutionally protected right?
Now, the other thing the governor doesn’t tell people is that they have been gouging citizens on this permit fee for two decades.
We recently obtained records from the Tennessee department of safety that show between 2008 and 2014 that the department of safety collected over F$52 million from people in handgun permit application fees. However, during that same time it only cost them F$35 million to run the program which has a staff of I think 71 people at present. That means they’ve overcharged the citizens of the state by at least F$17 million and they have appropriated those funds out of the handgun permit division and have applied them to the general fund rather than making any effort to reduce the fee.
State has absolute ban on guns — but exceptions
David So, Gardenhire and Haslam are defenders, effectively, of the administrative state? They are defenders of a system of administration that is pretended to cover everybody. The department of safety and homeland security permitting system says you don’t have a right to carry. This system exists because the constitutional provision on the right to bear arms gives the legislature the authority to “regulate the wearing” of arms, and so under that provision of the constitution this administrative system is created, effectively regulating all weapons and all ownership of weapons.
Are firearms, John Harris, banned in Tennessee? If they are, explain how that works.
John Harris The way the current criminal code is written, Tennessee law prohibits citizens from owning and possessing firearms. And everything is written from the perspective of: It’s a defense to the crime of owning and possessing a firearm if you own it on your property. If you own it at your residence. If you own it at your business. If you are using it to hunt or engage in other lawful activities. Or if you have a handgun permit. So everything is a defense to a fundamental criminal charge.
And that’s just wrong.
My system would say: Citizens have a right to carry arms, to wear arms and to defend themselves, and it’s a crime to abuse that by using them to commit another crime.
David Your proposed remedy, John Harris, is remedial, it’s not really comprehensive, in a way it’s not really substantive. It doesn’t go to the heart of the problem to overturn the presumption, or does it?
John Harris Well, now, we have a separate bill that Sen. [Mae] Beavers and Rep. Rick Womick are carrying that would fully restore the constitutional framework to the way it should be.
The Green-Matheny bill was a step in that direction to help people to try to get more comfortable with it. But we do have legislation pending and my expectation based upon what the governor has done, and what Sen. Gardenhire has done, is that it doesn’t have any chance of passage, either.
Because they believe in a type of government where the citizens are regulated to the point where [their rights] are nothing more than mere privileges.
Who drafts state’s coercive laws?
David Tell my listener just in a nutshell, John Harris, what the Uniform Law Commission is and how it has effectively brought administrative control of state government. What does that group do and how does it damage the interest of my listener?
John Harris It is one of several types of commissions or bodies that have as their mission — sort of like what has happened with Common Core. They want to standardize across state lines from the administration’s perspective what the legislatures are enacting as law.
It’s a statist type perspective. They have very little regard for constitutional frameworks. What they seek to do in my experience is draft model legislation — that’s what you’ll typically hear — that is suggested then to legislators in state bodies with the sort of suggestion that these model laws have been written by experts and that they should be adopted uniformly across state lines by multiple jurisdictions for consistency. Well, if that’s the case, why don’t we just get rid of all the states?
John Harris — and let the federal government do it all.
David Right. So Uniform Law Commission is staffed by volunteers only, they are all volunteers but they have to be members of the bar. So, effectively, what we have are members of the bar, like yourself, John Harris, who are engaged in writing laws that have a state perspective. They have a state hegemony perspective. The state is first and the people are simply individual troubling bodies that have to be managed. And if we have the best sort of statutory frameworks, and the regulatory framework that flows from those, we will have a peaceful, well ordered and efficient state.
John Harris Right. That’s exactly what Hitler said back in the 1930s. These types of commissions views citizens as livestock, not citizens.
TFA lobbies for gun rights
David Well listen, John Harris, thank you so much for joining us. Tell my listener how he can find out more about you. Give the website a couple of times, would you please?
John Harris Absolutely. They can reach the Tennessee Firearms Association at our main website, Tennesseefirearms.com. Again, that’s Tenesseefirearms.com. They can also find us on Facebook. We have an extremely active Facebook presence.
We have a Facebook page and a Facebook group. And the group, we’ve set it up separately so that people can join the group and they can actually engage in conversation and discussion whereas we really don’t allow that on the Facebook page.
But they can find the Tennessee Firearms Association on Facebook and our website, and they can subscribe to our free email alert system we send out every Friday, legislative updates on which laws are moving forward and which bills like this constitutional carry have been trampled in any committee.
David John Harris, thanks so much for joining us.