It’s been said and re-said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
That’s exactly what we’re doing with our insane gun laws. Or the lack of effective regulation in them.
It seems we are especially insane in Tennessee, where our governor made a permitless-carry gun measure a key legislative priority for 2021. Gov. Bill Lee and Republicans dubbed the measure with a more palatable name: “constitutional carry.”
But make no mistake, what permitless carry means is that any adult can carry handguns openly and concealed anywhere. And since they need no permit, that means they need not receive training, they need no waiting period and no background check. It means there’s no way for anyone to see, for instance, if a gun carrier has a restraining order against him or her, or is a convicted felon. At least not until it’s too late.
Never mind that our health and education systems are wanting and our state is still fifth in the nation for new daily per capita cases of COVID-19.
(READ MORE: Permitless handgun carry for Tennessee easily passes state Senate)
And never mind that public opinion in Tennessee’s metro areas — and among Tennessee law enforcement’s major groups — is squarely against this permitless carry legislation. An astonishingly high 84% of statewide Tennessee Power Poll members say that they oppose Lee’s proposal allowing people to carry handguns without a permit. Only 12% are in favor.
Yet Gov. Lee’s No. 1 legislative priority already has been realized in the Senate, where last week Lee and the National Rifle Association steamrolled it to passage. The measure is expected to pass the House later this week.
Even as our nation sees hope with vaccines to make progress against the coronavirus, gun violence is in the forefront — again — after the longest lull in recent history — a yearlong respite between March 2020 and March 2021. That period had the smallest number of mass gun attacks in eight years.
But this March 16, the rampages re-emerged — first when eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in three spas in Atlanta. Then just five days later — on Monday — we watched with horror as details became known about a gunman inside a grocery store in a Boulder, Colorado, suburb. This time, 10 people were left dead, including the first police officer to arrive on the scene.
In the days in between, Tennessee’s Gov. Lee stumped with lobbyists from the NRA to promote his permitless carry bill.
On Tuesday, the Southern Christian Coalition presented an open letter and petition with more than 500 signatures from Tennessee pastors and people of faith opposing the legislation.
Before the COVID lull, gun attacks in which at least four people were killed had numbered in the dozens during the past five years. And before that, other mass shootings are burned into our memories: the Chattanooga servicemen killings; a San Bernardino, California, office Christmas party; a Charleston, South Carolina, Bible study class — all in in 2015. There were the Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, school shootings in 2012. The Virginia Tech campus shootings occurred in 2007.
And frankly the shooting motivations have little import anymore. Whether it was hate, terror, mental illness — pick one — the victims are just as dead, and each new attack serves as a reminder of all of the others that came before it. Our nation — with the help of misguided leaders like Lee — has been unable to curb an epidemic of gun violence that far outpaces that of other countries.
Lee certainly isn’t alone. In Colorado, Boulder city officials barred assault weapons in 2018, hoping to prevent mass shootings like the one that killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida, earlier that year. But the Colorado State Shooting Association sued Boulder over the ban, preposterously arguing in a statement that “emotional sensationalism” about gun laws would cloud remembrance of the victims.
On March 12, a Boulder County district judge sided with the plaintiffs, saying that, according to a 2003 Colorado state law, cities and counties cannot restrict guns that are otherwise legal under federal and state law. Sound familiar? It should. Tennessee has a similar law to thump local rules.
Ten days after the judge ruled, the Boulder mass shooting with an assault weapon stole headlines all across the nation.
We really don’t have to have permitless gun carry. There is nothing constitutional about permitless gun carry. And there is certainly nothing constitutional about mass shootings.
We really don’t have to be this crazy.