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Front Page - Friday, April 23, 2021

Rogers column: Locked and loaded: Shooting only pauses legislators

Timing is everything, as Tennessee legislators learned recently. They might also have felt chastened, if they possessed that capacity, which they do not.

To be fair, I should amend that: A majority do not possess the capacity to feel chastened. A supermajority.

This was the situation: The House was to consider a bill designating Tennessee as a Second Amendment Sanctuary, yet another of the General Assembly’s continuing efforts to declare, basically: “Guns. We love ’em.”

This came on the heels of passage of the so-called permitless carry legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee. I expect that eventually legislators will dispense with the preliminaries and simply vote to issue a revolver or pistol (your choice!) to all Tennesseans of legal age, provided that they are not currently incarcerated. And then to lower the legal age to 12.

This particular gun celebration was complicated, however, by the fact that earlier that day a student was shot to death in a confrontation with the police at a high school in Knoxville.

Pretty awkward timing.

On top of that, the student was the fifth current or former student from the same high school, Austin-East Magnet, to die by gunshot this year, the other four away from campus.

Even more awkward.

Rep. Sam McKenzie, who represents the area and graduated from Austin-East, says that “we must make sure we take every step and make every effort to prevent these tragedies from continuing to occur.”

At McKenzie’s request, lawmakers delayed their gun celebration. For a week. And then again until April 29.

This session’s Second Amendment effort was not the first to take up the same notion. Just last year, for instance, Rep. Micah Van Huss had a House resolution to “reaffirm Tennessee is a sanctuary for the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms.”

In terms of rhetoric, Van Huss’s measure was the clear winner over this year’s, a staid few paragraphs to render “null, void, and unenforceable in this state” any gun restrictions found to violate the U.S. or Tennessee Constitutions.

Van Huss, not one to miss a chance to play to the rafters, started with the kind of flourish guaranteed to catch the eye:

“WHEREAS, governments killed two hundred sixty-two million (262,000,000) of their own citizens during the twentieth century. ...”

That’s a whole lot of people! Van Huss went on to imply that we’re all at constant risk of extermination by “tyrannical government,” and to specify what types of weaponry we need to combat this looming threat:

“[A]rms 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.”

Not that we are at risk from any basic infantry units or the like, Van Huss was quick to note. Oh, no. His resolution called members of the armed forces “people of honor” and added that “we appreciate their service and sacrifice.”

So. I guess in Van Huss’s alarmist view we’ll instead be menaced by violent, heavily armed federal bureaucrats, civil servants and, I don’t know, sociology professors.

I sort of miss Van Huss. A reliable source of legislative hooey, with a singular ability to find the very outer bounds of what a rational person might find reasonable on a given topic, and to then go six or eight steps beyond.

Alas, he was ousted in a primary last year by Tim Hicks. A look at measures sponsored by Hicks shows that he is not nearly in Van Huss’s league as a hooey source, and as such is a poor target for a columnist’s jibes.

Joining the Second Amendment effort this session was a measure to establish Tennessee as a safe place for the Bill of Rights. Totally unnecessary, of course, and, as it happened, totally unsupported in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, where it died for lack of a single voice in its favor.

I’d like to think that some legislators are belatedly coming to the realization that a state legislature voting to affirm rights already guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution falls under the category of time wasters. Unnecessary.

That is probably too optimistic.

Guns. We love ’em.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com