That means that, as the legislature focuses on budget measures for the duration of this week, the gun-carry bill will be one of the last measures taken up by the General Assembly before its anticipated adjournment on Tuesday, April 15.
The bill’s passage in the Senate came as a genuine surprise to legislators and observers alike. For one thing, Beavers is considered an outlier in the Senate, even by other ultra-conservatives, and her bills, which have included patently unconstitutional measures — like one allowing Tennessee sheriffs to arrest federal officials enforcing U.S. law — are usually hard sells or outright non-starters.
For another thing, the quick Senate processing of SB2424, with its revolutionary implications, took place in the absence of the usual phalanx of National Rifle Association lobbyists who work the outer lobbies of the two legislative chambers when gun bills are at stake. Members of the Tennessee Firearms Association have been pushing the Beavers bill, but even they have not been unusually conspicuous.
If there is a motive factor in what happened Tuesday, it is word-of-mouth about recent polling suggesting that voters statewide are focused on two matters above all — taxes, which they don’t want, and guns, which they do — and, with 2014 being an election year, any action on those two issues will receive special attention.
So it was that, without advance ballyhoo, key Senate Democrats joined the Republican majority in the Senate in rubber-stamping SB2424 when Beavers rose to speak of it on Tuesday. Organized resistance faded away, although four of the Senate’s seven Democrats distanced themselves — Charlotte Burks (D-Cookeville) and Thelma Harper (D-Nashville) with a No vote (the only two Senators doing so); Lowe Finney (D-Jackson), who was recorded as “present, not voting;” and Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), who did not vote.
Voting for the bill were Memphis Democrats Ophelia Ford and Jim Kyle, the Senate Democratic leader; and the venerable Doug Henry (D-Nashville).
Republicans not voting for the bill included Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), who recorded themselves as “present, not voting,” and Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) and Douglas Overbey (R-Maryville), who did not vote.
Apropos his vote for the bill, Kyle made an effort to emphasize a possible positive. “Passage of this bill would mean that legislation to abolish gun permits in Tennessee, which was likely at some point, will now die on the vine,” he said, noting that the open-carry provisions of SB2424 require that weapons be fully visible. Permits are still necessary for individuals to carry concealed weapons, he said.
Despite the obvious head of steam the bill had as of Tuesday, however, it remains uncertain what the House intends to do with it. Word early Wednesday morning was that the House Finance, Ways and Means subcommittee, which had the companion bill, HB2429, on its docket for Wednesday, would defer action on it until next week.
Even some of those who voted for SB2424 in the Senate have nursed serious reservations about the concept of open-carry. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the Senate Speaker and arguably the most influential figure on Capitol hILL, told reporters in January that he had “never been for Constitutional Carry,” an alternate name for universal gun-carry.
As the Flyer indicated on in an online post of January 20 from Nashville: “He [Ramsey] said that such requirements for permits and associated training in firearms use, along with requirements for background checks by gun-sellers were useful. “‘It’s a little bit of trouble to get a gun permit, and it should be … I like the system we have now.’”
The Lt. Governor was said to be among those who were astonished by Tuesday’s groundswell of support for open-carry and who had assumed that, in any case, House action on it in this session was not expected.
As of mid-morning Wednesday, that expectation of House inaction, shared by others, has been amended to apply only to the balance of the current week, and even that scenario might be further altered by circumstance.
Much depends on how energetic gun advocates, on and off Capitol Hill, might become between now and next week, and how vocal and determined the potential opposition, on and off Capitol Hill, might be.