Friday, April 11, 2014

Of Gun Bills and Gangbangers: a Commentary

Where open-carry legislation is concerned, the issue is -- or should be -- its impact, not the way in which it's described.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 10:09 AM

Mayor A C Wharton
  • Mayor A C Wharton
If there is one locality in Tennessee that has a tendency to feel trod upon by state government, it is surely that of Memphis and Shelby County, where indigenous sensibilities are routinely ignored or actively countered by actions taken or contemplated in Nashville.

This has been the case with respect to education, where both the General Assembly and the administration of Governor Bill Haslam have acted to impose their authority over the local status quo in recent years. It is true as well of legislation striking down the ability of localities to address living-wage and anti-discrimination issues, and is flagrantly the case with gun legislation.

Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News-Sentinel notes the point in his Friday report on Thursday’s state House action, following earlier action by the state Senate on Wednesday, in passing legislation abolishing what had been opt-out provisions for local government in prior bills that loosened restrictions on firearms.

The bill — SB1612/HB1399 — would, as Humphrey says, “ban local governments like Memphis, Germantown and Shelby County from regulating ‘the use, purchase, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, carrying, sale, acquisition, gift, devise, licensing, registration, storage and transportation’ of firearms, ammunition or components of firearms or ammunition.”

And, as Les Smith of Fox Channel 13 reported on Thursday, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has grave concerns about yet another measure, passed by the Senate on Tuesday and still pending in the House. This is SB2424/HB2409, the so-called “open-carry” bill that would allow Tennessee citizens to carry weapons without legal restriction, so long as their weapons are not concealed.

Said Wharton: "You seldom hear me use the word 'worry' or 'troubled,' but, I'm, I'm ... it really worries me….Maybe this works in hill country or somewhere population 183, where everybody knows everybody. We got 675,000 people in this town. Tourists. We don't know friend or foe."

That is essentially the same point made more explicitly to the Flyer Thursday by state Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parker’s Crossroads), the Deputy House Speaker. West Tennessean McDaniel is a member of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, which will have a chance to vet the open-carry measure before it could pass to the House floor for a vote.

McDaniel had made it clear he thought the bill would be blocked in committee, largely for the technical reason that it bears a fiscal note of $100,000 (the amount which the Department of Safety estimates would be required to pay for revising the carry permits for those Tennesseans wishing to conceal their weapons). With the legislature due to shut down early next week, the state budget is virtually a done deal and would have to be unraveled to accommodate the new spending, McDaniel noted.

But he had made it clear that he and other members of House Ways and Means also objected to the practical implications of the bill and would, in the Bad Cop/Good Cop dichotomy of bicameral interaction, be prepared to serve in the latter role.

As McDaniel put it, taking note of his questioner’s Memphis roots, “Every gangbanger in Memphis will end up packing. Can you imagine?”

Several readers of the Flyer report on the matter took umbrage at this comment and succumbed to righteous indignation, with apparent gun advocates suddenly seeking a foothold on the high ground of civil rights rhetoric. Meanwhile, even some of those who share McDaniel’s objection to the bill itself communicated their concern over his use of the term “gangbanger.”

The fact is, however, that Mayor Wharton’s comments were, connotation-wise, in the same direction as those of McDaniel. And we need not doubt the attitude of Police Director Toney Armstrong, who is well aware (a) of the problem of gangs in Memphis; (b) of the high incidence of black-on-black crime wrought by guns; and (c) of the accepted provenance of the term “gangbangers.”

Arguably, McDaniel is merely in the proverbial position of the messenger, and debate over the pending gun measure should not be sidetracked into a discussion of his syntax.

A further note: As all observers of the debate over the open-carry issue in Nashville agree, the usually hyper-active National Rifle Association, always ready to defend the Second Amendment but at pains also to emphasize its concern for responsibility in gun use, has stayed on the sidelines for this one.

That should tell us something.

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