There is a reason, going way beyond political viability or even questions of character, why Bill Haslam's cave-in to the gun lobby two weeks ago on the matter of abolishing carry permits looms so large for the future.
For once, a politician's flip-flopping became something to root for, as the Knoxville mayor struggled for the next week or two to alter a position that was clearly untenable. Finally, on the eve of Election Day, the man who would be governor asserted himself, at least to the extent that he vowed to do what he could to dissuade the legislature not to go there, and to focus instead — "for the next two years" — on the more relevant issues of jobs and the economy.
And it is even possible that Haslam, once in office, will enjoy enough of a honeymoon with the public and with the General Assembly that his wishes might be respected. At least for the aforesaid two years. After that? Well, by then the political climate may have changed enough and Haslam may have grown in office enough that he could unabashedly say no to all those itchy trigger-finger types who've pretty much had their way in Nashville for the last few years.
We are entitled to hope.
But the likelihood is that things will get worse before they get better, and, to return to our main premise, the real problem with the rush to abolish carry permits — as with the guns-in-bars and guns-in-parks bills that were hustled into passage by the General Assembly before that — has little to do with firearms per se or even public safety. The real problem is what such efforts have to say about the relationship of people to their government.
For the record, here's the whole of the Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." However one may choose to interpret the language of the amendment — specifically, whether the right to bear arms is constitutionally ordained for individuals or only for whatever it meant by the term "militia" — there is no doubt about one thing: The term "well regulated" is in there, as boldly and as indelibly as are the introductory words to the Constitution itself, "We the People."
Who is to "regulate" the use of firearms if not the government? A government chosen by the people, to be sure. But a government. And the adverb "well" fairly clearly dispenses with the notion that the prescribed regulation can be only a pro forma thing, an obligation honored in the breach rather than in the observance. No, the framers of the Constitution saw the issue of weaponry realistically. It is we in our time who have fallen away from the knowledge that with liberty comes both responsibility and accountability. It is we who have come to harbor these dangerously romantic — and patently unconstitutional — notions of "every man for himself."
What can it be that the extremists among us don't understand about the word "regulated?"