HENDERSONVILLE, Tennessee – As the Sumner County Board of Commissioners are scheduled take up a Second Amendment Sanctuary County Resolution Monday, citizens gathered in support of what they say is their God-given constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.
About 150 people attended the rally held Saturday at the Shackle Island Fire Hall on Long Hollow Pike, organized by Sumner County Stands United.
Sumner County Stands United is the local group of Tennessee Stands United, which is working to get a Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution passed in all 95 counties. Currently, a resolution has passed in at least two dozen other Tennessee counties and cities.
Kimberly Hasse, chair of the Sumner County group, organized the event along with members Jackie and Mike Connor, Kurt Riley and Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield (R-District 11), who proposed the resolution.
The Second Amendment Sanctuary County Resolution will be taken up by the Legislative Committee of the Sumner County Board of Commissioners Monday night.
The special guest speaker at Saturday’s rally was John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA). TFA is the only full-time organization supporting the right to keep, bear and wear arms for Tennesseans, according to the website.
Harris, who has lead the organization for 25 years, delivers talks to such groups several times per month as well as topics geared specifically toward other groups.
TFA was formed as a result of the 1994 modification to Tennessee’s handgun carry permit law, passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature that allowed civilians to carry firearms statewide.
Harris made the point that since that time, data points show that “Tennesseans really love our guns.”
The fiscal note attached to the 1994 legislation estimated that 11,000 Tennesseans would apply for the new permit. It turns out that figure was severely underestimated, when 653,000 actually applied.
The downside, Harris noted, is that Tennesseans have paid the state millions of dollars in fees associated with the permit for what is a constitutional right of the citizens to keep and bear arms.
A second data point relates to the 1998 passage of the Tennessee Instant Check System (TICS), the TBI-performed background check on prospective gun buyers instead of the federal system.
In 1999, the first full year TICS was implemented, TBI reported 250,000 firearms were sold at retail annually. That trend held steady until 2008.
“Then something happened in the country,” said Harris, which received a chuckle from the audience.
In the 2008 – 2009 timeframe, the rate increased to 500,000 per year and has stayed at that level since, Harris said.
While Tennessee is a great state in terms of the love of firearms, what it doesn’t tell is how we are doing relative to the infringement of 2A.
Harris went on to say that every Republican candidate will claim they are a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but questioned that that really means.
The Second Amendment, added to the bill of rights at the insistence of the states, is more of a political right – not about self-defense, hunting, or target shooting – but for the purpose of overthrowing government. In other words, for American citizens to do to the federal government, what had just been done to England, Harris explained.
Harris points out that if candidates for office and elected officials were pressed on the issue, most of the time they don’t really believe the Second Amendment means what it did when written.
The Second Amendment, says Harris, is a great litmus test. If a legislator really believes in the Second Amendment, they are far more likely to support other constitutional principles.
He also made the point that legislators can say whatever they want, but it’s their actions that count as he went on to describe some of those actions.
From 1994 to 2007 when Democrats were in the majority in the House and Senate and held the governor’s office, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a fair number of 2A laws, although Harris can’t remember any that removed infringements.
In the two-year period when Republicans held the majority in the state Senate, Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains) has said that 17 pro-gun laws were passed.
Since 2010, when Republicans have held a majority in the state House and Senate and the governor’s office, it’s been “promises made” only when it comes to the Second Amendment, said Harris.
While one might have expected that “bluebirds and sunshine would have landed in 2011” with the supposedly pro-Second Amendment Republicans, there have been dirty tricks, shenanigans, bad laws and felony traps, but no major reductions in 2A infringements.
Harris said he was told during 2011 in the office of one of the House Republican leaders in that none of the 2A bills were going to be put on the House floor, because it might be used against them by the Democrats in the next election.
TFA got involved in that next election, and that incumbent leader, after spending $375,000 on their campaign, was defeated by 15 percentage points.
Harris cited the example of then state Senator Mark Green who in 2016 carried a constitutional carry bill, which allows for a person who legally possesses a firearm to carry it without a required fee, permit or training.
At the time, the Senate Judiciary Committee membership included seven Republicans and two Democrats. Four Republicans voted in favor of the measure, while current Republican Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) and former Senator Doug Overbey joined with Democrats to vote against it, while current Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) sat there and didn’t vote either way, recalled Harris.
On a permitless open carry bill sponsored by Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), committee Chairman Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) decided to have a roll call versus voice vote. While there were four Republicans and two Democrats on the committee, the measure died by a 4 to 2 vote with a clear “no” vote coming from Chairman Coley, relayed Harris.
Later, the Tennessee General Assembly website revealed that the vote had changed to 2 For, 2 Against and 2 Abstain.
Harris recounted that Chairman Coley admitted on video that he indeed voted no on the bill, but not wanting his constituents to know, changed his vote. Also changing his vote, said Harris, was then Representative and now Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol).
A 2017 change to Tennessee law banning carrying weapons during judicial proceedings started out by addressing the “room” in which they took place, but was then amended to “any building” in which judicial proceedings are in progress.
Since some municipal buildings are multi-purpose – register of deeds, county clerk, trustee – and judicial proceedings may not be held on a daily basis or posted when in progress, Harris says this creates a felony trap.
A person violating the statute commits a Class E felony which carries a three-year prison sentence.
Harris maintains, “We don’t need legislators who write laws like that, especially on the Second Amendment.”
Vermont is the only true “constitutional carry” state, meaning that there is no requirement for a permit for residents or visitors to carry firearms within the state guaranteed in the state’s constitution.
In the last 25 years, 17 states have adopted constitutional carry legislation, including 60 percent of Tennessee’s bordering states, said Harris.
With regard to 2A, Republican control of state government has provided no real benefit, summarized Harris.
There have been Second Amendment-related bills filed this year, but Harris implied a wait-and-see posture on how leadership will handle the proposed legislation. Newly-elected Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) has not sat on any committees to which 2A bills have been assigned, thereby not creating a record of his 2A position.
After about an hour talk and a follow-up question and answer period with TFA’s Harris, Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield took over to talk about the Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution to be considered by the County Commission.
Mansfield and Commissioner Terry Wright (R-District 1) were the only two elected officials who attended the rally. However, Mansfield shared that Commissioner Moe Taylor (I-District 1) sent his regards and would have been there had he not had to work.
Mansfield explained that the proposed 2A Sanctuary County Resolution is more than a “feel good” measure, because it states, in part:
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, by the Board of County Commissioners of Sumner County, Tennessee government will not authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers, or offices for the purpose of enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of any element of such acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules or regulation that infringe on the right by the people to keep and bear arms as described and defined in detail above.
Mansfield pointed out that the sanctuary county and city resolutions in Tennessee are proactive, versus those passed in Virginia where they are being reactive to the recent Democrat control of the legislature.
New York transplant Dawna LoPiccolo gave a rousing call to action, which she started by telling attendees she was formerly a Democrat and afraid of guns.
Before the event wrapped up, Sumner County resident Kurt Riley introduced the attendees to The Sumner County Republican Assembly (SCRA), a chapter of the Tennessee Republican Assembly.
SCRA is more concerned about the quality of Republicans, versus the quantity. As such, the group has a strict vetting process for members and candidates.
SCRA meets the third Saturday of the month at 9 a.m. at the Shackle Island Fire Hall, and further information can be found on the group’s website.
The public meeting of the Sumner County Board of Commissioners Legislative Committee, during which the Second Amendment Sanctuary County Resolution will be taken up, is Monday, February 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the County Administration Building, 355 N. Belvedere Drive, Gallatin.
The full text of the resolution declaring Sumner County a Second Amendment sanctuary county can be read here.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.