Tennessee Firearms Founder John Harris Discusses the Need for His State Based Group and Nationwide

Black revolver with ammo


Live from Music Row Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Executive Director and Founder John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association in studio to discuss the Tennessee Firearms Association’s purpose and reason for its need despite the NRA and similar state-based organizations.

Leahy: Our good friend, John Harris, the founder and executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. I think I’ve known you pretty much for all 25 years that you’ve run the Tennessee Firearms Association. We moved here from California back in 1991. (Harris chuckles)

Harris: Oh I know.

Leahy: Tennessee was so different back then.

Harris: It absolutely was. One of the first big events that you were working on that got a lot of public attention was the Beat Lamar campaign.

Leahy: (Laughs) That was fun.

Harris: Yeah, it absolutely was. And unfortunately, it wasn’t successful.

Leahy: But yeah, Joe Carr was the guy that we ended up in touring, and he lost 49-40. We had a crew of kids knocking on doors and had a little political action committee. And actually, Joe won in Middle Tennessee. Where he lost big was in the West Tennessee area where we just didn’t have enough kids to knock on doors.

Harris: That was it. It was name recognition.

Leahy: Well, and also Tennessee is a fascinating state. It is the best state in the entire United States as far as I’m concerned. And the lack of a state income tax is one part of that.

Harris: Absolutely. The other part of it is the people here are really nice people. I mean, you could go to any state in the union and just sort of talk to the average person, the nicest people are in Tennessee.

And, of course, we have the variety of the three regions. East Tennessee, which has its own unique character. Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee. So we’ve got variety within it. The only thing that people complain about here, it’s like six to seven hours to a beach. (Laughter) But I’ll take that.

Harris: It absolutely is.

Leahy: I’ll take that. So you were telling us a little bit about the Tennessee Firearms Association. Let me ask the bigger question. And I know this is going to get a reaction. Why do we need a Tennessee Firearms Association if we have a National Rifle Association?

Harris: Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that. One is if you look across the state and then look across the nation, I deal with executive directors of similar state organizations across the nation.

Leahy: What I was going to say is I know for instance, in other states, there are independent state-based Second Amendment groups.

Harris: There are.

Leahy: In Ohio, for instance, the Buckeye Firearms Association. And there are several other states that have similar state-based groups.

Harris: There are. Most States now have state-based groups.

Leahy: Did you lead the way with this? Was Tennessee the first?

Harris: We were one of the first, and we’re one of the oldest. But there are a number of them in many of the red states in particular. But even your blue states have red-leaning people, so to speak.

Leahy: The last gasp in California is going to be the vote to recall a week from today.  And if they recall, Gavin Newsom and Larry Elder is elected as governor, then I think you’re on the exodus will stop. But if Gavin Newsom wins, and the polling that I’ve seen is very mixed. I think it was about three weeks ago it looked like it was 50/50.

The most recent polls show him with like, plus five, plus six, plus seven. I’m not sure I believe any of that. But here’s what’s going to happen. The big beneficiary of Gavin Newsom not being recalled will be the state of Tennessee, Texas, and Florida.

Harris: (Chuckles) Yes.

Leahy: Because people are going to flee like crazy from those states.

Harris: They are. No doubt about it.

Leahy: Does California have a version of the Tennessee Farms Association?

Harris: They do. Parts of California actually have some pretty good gun laws. The problem is those are all in the Northern part of the state or rural part of the state.

Leahy: Very different than San Francisco and LA for sure.

Harris: They ought to be two separate states.

Leahy: Of course my friend Tim Draper wanted to make them six separate states. I told them, no, just go for three. Go for three. It happened.

Harris: But they do have some very conservative laws in the northern portion. Unfortunately, all the crazy people are in their legislature.

Leahy: Talk about legislatures out of control.

Harris: Yes. Absolutely.

Leahy: California has a supermajority in the House and what they call it the Assembly and the Senate of left-wing lunatic Democrats. And they pass the craziest laws.

Harris: They do. And then they have judges in a federal circuit that believe that their sound laws is even worse.

Leahy: I know, which is interesting to see. But I think back to the question of why the need for Tennessee Farms Association when you have the National Rifle Association. It’s been very controversial. National Rifle Association has had a rough couple of years.

Harris: It’s had a rough couple of decades, and part of that goes back to the NRA having a history for those that are attuned to it.

Leahy: And a lot of our listeners, I think, are probably members of both the NRA and the Tennesse Farms Association.

Harris: I would say a good number of the organization. The NRA’s issues date back at least to the 1934 National Firearms Act when it was compromised. And it’s got a long history of compromising on critical issues where there shouldn’t be compromising. As a matter of fact, TFA worked well with the state lobbyists from when we were formed in ’95 until about 2007.

Leahy: That’s a pretty good twelve-year run.

Harris: It was.

Leahy: A 13-year run.

Harris: We had an understanding NRA happened to have some good lobbyists in here during that window.

Leahy: And by the way, let’s just talk about this. You use an interesting phrase, good lobbyists. Now I think people out there would say, lobbyists, are all awful. Not exactly. Actually, there is a role for a lobbyist to play.

And it’s not giving a whole bunch of money to these legislators. It’s actually providing information to them that they probably don’t have about the issue that the lobbyist is supporting.

Harris: That’s exactly what a good lobbyist ought to do. Part of it is the financial support. A more critical part of it is being an expert on an issue so that you can easily get a legislator or a committee up to speed on what the law policy ought to be. And while we have a problem that needs to be fixed.

There was a time when I thought, oh, gosh, I’d love to be a state legislator or a member of Congress, because then I could pursue my ideas about what the country ought to be. Then you look at these laws and they’re very detailed and you say, well, I don’t know anything about this. What do I do? (Harris chuckles) And that’s the role of a good lobbyist.

Harris: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s like, for example, this year on the NRA issue, that was strongly in support of the governor’s bill. We weren’t surprised at that.

Leahy: Just describe the governor’s bill that passed.

Harris: The governor’s bill that the governor himself and some of the legislative champions referred to as constitutional carry is in fact, not. Constitutional carry is a clear category of law that basically says you have a right to carry a firearm.

The governor’s bill that passed this year is a qualified defense to that criminal charge of carrying with intent to go armed. So you’ve got to meet seven elements for that law to apply to your circumstances.

Leahy: My eyes are starting to glaze over. Seven elements you have to meet?

Harris: Seven elements you have to meet otherwise, you’re not eligible to carry under the governor’s law.

Leahy: And is one of them you have to hop on one foot and rub your head at the same time?

Harris: It’s almost that bad. I’ll put it this way. Constitutional carry functions on the basis of anyone who can legally possess a firearm should have the ability to carry it. The governor’s law disregards almost every material phrase in that sentence. So it’s got age restrictions that are now being constitutionally challenged in federal court in East Tennessee.

Leahy: Who’s doing that challenge?

Harris: Three 19-year-olds have sued.

Leahy: But some group is behind them.

Harris: The Firearm’s Policy Coalition is the group funding the litigation.

Leahy: And who are they?

Harris: They’re a group that has come up in the last ten years, and their focus is predominantly raising money to support litigation efforts.

Leahy: It seems like in every arena, there is some group out there raising money for litigation.

Harris: Yes.

Leahy: But needed.

Harris: Conservatives are starting to figure out that we’ve lost so many rights because the left-wing won in the court system. And the conservatives are realizing you can’t just go to the legislature. You got to end up in the court.

Leahy: You got to follow it up because, with the courts, the legislature will pass a law, and the left-wing will say, well, we’re going to sue. They get it in front of a liberal judge, boom.

Harris: Yes. And you’ve got a problem and now the right is doing the same thing.

Listen to the second hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.















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