Bob Sheak, April 17, 2023
The issue of whether or how to regulate guns is, in the final analysis, a political issue. Despite an increase in “mass shootings and killings,” Republicans are generally opposed to any regulation, and, when they have political control at any level of government, federal, state or municipal, they have moved to weaken or eliminate such regulations. The Republican Party favors the maximum freedom of citizens to buy weapons, including assault weapons, the opportunity to carry weapons virtually anywhere, and the notion that more guns equate to more freedom. They even want to secure schools by giving teachers the option of carrying guns.
The idea of arming teachers is by and large not a popular one, though there is some increasing attention to enhancing school security systems, including having armed security personnel inside or outside school entrances, locked entrance doors with cameras to identify individuals wanting to enter a school, as well as having bullet-proof windows. That’s seemingly appropriate, given the increase in school shootings. At the same time, if the responses of those who oppose gun regulation prevail, for example the likes of Trump, the NRA, and many Republican legislators, we’ll unfortunately end up with fortress-like schools, armed teachers, and other security personnel in the schools, fearful children, and, given the record, the chances that minority children in inadequately-resourced schools will end up disproportionately among the victims. Benjamin Balthaser, associate professor of multi-ethnic US literature at Indiana University, South Bend, argues, “arming teachers” will kill education
Such “security” measures in the schools will not address the conditions that spur mass gun shootings and killings, most notably the widespread availability and ownership of firearms, including assault weapons, by millions of citizens. And they might well make them worse.
Balthaser identifies the potential problems of arming teachers.
“Bearing the role of public education in mind, it is self-evident that arming teachers will do little if anything to actually make schools safer. Not only would having multiple shooters increase the confusion and mayhem of a mass shooting, the “good-guy-with-a-gun” theory has been widely debunked, and leads to all kinds of other bizarre questions, such as: Who decides which teachers are armed? Where are the guns stored? Who decides when a teacher can use a gun? What are the penalties for misusing a gun? The practical problems with arming teachers are so abundant, like many of Trump’s gestures of contempt, these ‘solutions’ are not designed to solve real-world problems, but rather to shift the discourse and change the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable in civil society.
“The proposal to arm teachers should not be seen as just a joke. It is not serious as a way to stop violence but is deadly serious about one thing: ending the progressive role of education and educators. The proposal is not about helping students but turning the student-teacher relationship from one of trust and respect into one of violence…. The right [to gun ownership by private citizens] does not imagine teachers wielding weapons so much as weapons remaking teachers”
Henry Giroux echoes these and other concerns (https:www.truth-out.org/news/item/43732-killing-children-in-the-age-of-disposability-the-parkland-shooting-was-about-more-than-gun-violence).
Giroux writes: “Suggesting that teachers be armed and turned into potential instruments of violence extends and normalizes the prison as a model for schools and the increasing expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline. What is being left out of this tragedy is that the number of police in schools has doubled in the last decade from 20 percent in 1996 to 43 percent today. Moreover, as more police are put in schools, more and more children are brutalized by them. There is no evidence that putting the police in schools has made them any safer. Instead, more and more young people have criminal records, are being suspended, or expelled from school, all in the name of school safety.” Giroux quotes Sam Sinyangwe, the director of the Mapping Police Violence Project, to further document his point.
“The data … that does exist … shows that more police in schools leads to more criminalization of students, and especially black and brown students. Every single year, about 70,000 kids are arrested in school…. [Moreover] since 1999 [and into 2018], 10,000 additional police officers have been placed at schools, with no impact on violence. Meanwhile, about one million students have been arrested for acts previously punishable by detention or suspension, and black students are three times more likely to be arrested than their white peers.
“Trump’s proposal to arm teachers suggests that the burden of gun violence and the crimes of the gun industries and politicians should fall on teachers’ shoulders, foolishly imagining that armed teachers would be able to stop a killer with military grade weapons, and disregarding the risk of teachers shooting other students, staff or faculty in the midst of such a chaotic moment.”
The argument for gun regulation rests most fundamentally on the premises that the ownership of guns should be regulated, and that gun ownership is not an absolute, unlimited right of citizenship.
There is a need to find a balance
A reasonable position on gun rights is that they must be balanced with public safety concerns. Thomas Gabor, who has studied gun violence and policy for over 30 years in the United States and other countries, concludes that we need to find a “delicate balance” between the two. He states his position, along with other reasons, writing that “[g]un ownership can be a right while every effort is made to ensure that those who pose a risk to public safety cannot easily obtain them” (Confronting Gun Violence in America, p. 32).
We do not have such a balance and the scale is being tilted in favor of gun ownership and rights.
The Role of the NRA in the expansion of lethal firearms
For decades since the early 1970s, opponents of gun regulation, most prominently the National Rifle Association (NRA), have used their political influence to foster a one-sided interpretation of the Second Amendment to keep the federal government and many states and local governments from adequately regulating access to guns (gun ownership) by private citizens. On this point, Gabor captures the uncompromising position of the NRA and its considerable allies as follows:
“…those viewing gun ownership as an inalienable right often see this right as an absolute and will yield little ground regardless of the annual death toll or other evidence pointing to the harm produced by widespread gun ownership” (p. 263). New York Times reporter Greg Weiner illustrates this retrograde viewpoint, reporting on a speech given by Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference. Here’s some of what Weiner reported.
“According to this conception, rights are zones of personal autonomy where the individual owes no explanation and the community has no jurisdiction. This manner of thinking about rights is a serious barrier to reasonable regulations of firearms” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/28/opinion/wayne-lapierres-unconstitutionalism.html?_r=0).
The N.R.A. ritually claims the mantle of the Constitution, principally through its interpretation of “the Second Amendment.” At the same time, “the American founders who framed it had a far richer view in which individual rights were subject to considerations of the common good.”
The Second Amendment reads as follows: “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.”
For the NRA and its supporters, there is more at stake than simple legal access to guns. What is at stake is whether individual citizens are able to have the “freedom” to own and carry weapons. “They argue that the Second Amendment by itself, if properly interpreted, secures the basic freedom of citizens to express dissent and enable citizens to protect themselves from a tyrannical state through insurrection if necessary.”
What does the historical record say. Through most of US history up through the end of the 20th Century, the courts have found that, as John Atcheson reports, the introductory phrase “a well-regulated militia” constrains, or takes precedence over, the clause ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms” (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/02/24/no-founding-fathers-didnt-give-you-right-to-bear-arms).
Atcheson puts it this way: “In short, the individual ‘right’ was contingent on the need to keep a well-regulated militia, and hence it protected the States’ interests in having a militia, not an individual’s right to have and carry a weapon.”
Gabor (cited previously) refers to supporting evidence. He writes:
“In four Supreme Court rulings between 1876 and 1939 and in 37 cases involving challenges to gun laws heard by federal courts of appeal between 1942 and 2001, the courts have consistently set aside these challenges and have viewed the Second Amendment as protecting state militias, rather than individual rights. Thus, with little exception, the first 125 years of ruling by higher courts interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that ‘The people’ collectively have the right to bear arms within the context of a well-regulated militia, rather than for protection against fellow citizens or for other personal reasons. This view of the Second Amendment is consistent with the requirement, in America’s first Constitution, that each state maintain a militia and with the modern Constitution, which provides for both state militias and a standing army” (p. 266).
Now, the official state militias have been long ago abandoned because they were not well funded by the various states. Nonetheless the point is, for most of US history, individual rights to firearms were regulated and limited. Gabor also quotes several Supreme Court justices who expressed support for “militia” preeminence interpretation of the Second Amendment. For example, former chief justice Warren Burger, “a conservative and hunter himself, said in an interview in 1991 on the MacNeill Lehrer News Hour that the focus on the “right to keep and bear arms” has “been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud…on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime” (Gabor, p. 266). As noted above, the interest group he has in mind is the NRA and its increasingly intense efforts to end virtually all restrictions on gun ownership by private citizens.
President Clinton gave gun safety a try
Remarkably, given the power of the NRA, President Clinton signed a 1994 law banning the manufacture and sale of new assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (holding more than ten rounds of ammunition) – and it remained in in force for ten years until 2004, according to Gabor. The ban was allowed to expire by the US Congress in 2004. Even during the years of the ban, though, the law had “grandfathering provisions” that “allowed weapons and high-capacity magazines already manufactured to continue to be bought and sold, severely undercutting the effectiveness of the ban” (Gabor, pp. 292-293). In short, the ban on assault weapons had at best only very modest effects on reducing violence associated with guns, even from assault weapons. But, even with its flaws, the ban did have some limited, positive effect. In as assessment of the effects of the ban, Christopher Koper, associate professor at George Mason University, provides some insight, as follows:
“Although the ban has been successful in reducing crimes with AWs [Assault Weapons], any benefits from this reduction are likely to have been outweighed by steady or rising use of non-banned semiautomatics with LCMs [large-capacity magazines], which are used in crime much more frequently than AWs. Therefore, we cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence [as of 2013]. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence, based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury, as we might have expected had the ban reduced crimes with both AWs and LCMs” (https://www.factcheck.org/2013/02/did-the-1994-assault-ban-work).
Nonetheless, it is worth concluding that through most of U.S. history there have been federal laws in effect to limit the gun ownership of private citizens, other than for hunting, conservation, certified gun collections (where the guns are inoperable) and sports-related activities, and that the temporary assault ban did have some positive effect. Though it should also be mentioned that the ban did not close other ways by which individual can acquire guns. In addition to the grandfathering loophole and the parts of the gun market that were not covered by the ban, guns could be obtained through private sales (e.g., now through the internet) and at gun shows, both of which remain unregulated. Of course, there has always been an illegal market for guns. George Aisch and Josh Keller report on one aspect of this illegal gun market in their article “Traffikers Get Around State Laws (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/12/us/gun-traffikers-smuggling-state-gun-laws.html). Gabor presents evidence that such bans can have some positive effect (pp. 292-293).
Little regulation of firearms in “red” states
The World Population Review reports on state rankings on gun laws in 2023 (https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-ranking/strictist-gun-laws-by-state). Here’s some of what they find.
“The federal government of the United States has very few laws that regulate the sale of guns. There have been pushes to introduce federal legislation on gun control, particularly after Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. However, many lawmakers still interpret the Second Amendment to mean that they should not regulate guns at all. There are some gun attachments – such as high-capacity magazines – that are banned at a federal level. However, for the most part, gun laws are governed by states.
“Some U.S. states have little to no gun regulation on guns at all. Some of the most lenient gun laws are known as open carry laws, meaning that someone can openly carry a firearm in public. Other states are concealed carry only. Some of the strictest gun laws require the person to pass a background check and undergo training before purchasing a gun.”
Restrictive gun laws make a difference
“California is the state with the strictest gun laws, and it also has the seventh-lowest rate of deaths by gun violence. In addition to regulation on who can purchase a gun and what kinds of firearms may be legally obtained, California gun laws allow for funding to community programs that have reduced gun-related violence. Other states with strict gun laws include Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Some of these states require background checks and a waiting period before someone is allowed to purchase a gun; some require that they undergo training first.
“For example, in Massachusetts, those who wish to purchase a firearm must obtain a permit to purchase from their local police department. This process alone can take weeks and requires paperwork, an interview, and a background check. After all of that, the police chief still has the discretion to deny the license. After obtaining a license, the purchaser must present the license at the gun store and pass additional background checks.
“Unsurprisingly, the states with the strictest gun laws generally have the lowest gun ownership rates. Massachusetts and New Jersey have the lowest gun ownership in the U.S. at 14.7%, Hawaii’s is 14.9%, and New York‘s is 19.9%. Of the eight states with at least an A-, the highest gun ownership rate is 30.2% in Maryland.
“Additionally, gun deaths are significantly lower in states with strict gun laws and low gun ownership. Rhode Island‘s gun ownership is the second-lowest in the country at 14.8% and has the lowest gun death rate at 3.28 per 100,000 people. Massachusetts has the second-lowest gun death rate at 3.46 per 100,000 people, followed by New York and Hawaii with 4.03 each and New Jersey with 4.75.”
The point: gun laws restricting gun ownership appear to make a difference.
Ohio, my home state, has a “D” rating and is among the states with very permissive gun ownership and carry laws. According to Every Town for Gun Safety, “Ohio has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. Ohio has no law requiring background checks on unlicensed gun sales, and state law allows teachers to carry guns in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. Ohio has no laws prohibiting domestic abusers from possessing guns” (https://everytown.org/states.ohio).
Even when states have strict gun laws, people can still purchase them in other nearby states where there are lax gun laws or at gun shows and carry them into these states.
The Supreme Court tilts in favor of deregulation
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, which typically has the final statement on the relevant law, has created “turmoil over gun laws in lower courts,” according to a report on February 18, 2023, by Allana Durkin and Lindsay Whitehurst for the Associated Press (https://pbs.com/newshour/nation/supreme-court-ruling-creates-turmoil-over-gun-laws-in-lower-courts).
The “landmark” decision on the Second Amendment occurred on November 2021, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen. Michael Macagnone considers the implications of the amendment (https://rollcall.com/2023/03/15/senate-hears-about-legal-fallout-from-supreme-court-gun-decision).
Macagnone notes that the new “legal test” embodied in the decision “looks to the history and tradition of the Second Amendment. He quotes Eric Ruben, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, who “said the Bruen decision means judges can now pick and choose what historical gun laws are analogous to modern restrictions — which has ‘enabled judicial subjectivity and unpredictability’ about gun restrictions.”
The Bruen decision posits that “Judges should no longer consider whether the law serves public interests like enhancing public safety.”
Under the Supreme Court’s new test, the government or court that wants to uphold a gun restriction must look back in history to show it is consistent with the country’s ‘historical tradition of firearm regulation.’
“Since the decision came down in June, more than a half-dozen courts have tossed gun restrictions such as requirements that firearms have serial numbers and bans on possessing firearms in mass transit. An appeals court in February  struck down a federal prohibition on gun possession for people subject to domestic violence restraining orders.”
“Since the decision, more than “a half-dozen courts have tossed [eliminated] firearm restrictions.”
Meanwhile, gun shootings and killings go up
Grace Hauck refers to new survey by USA TODAY/Associated Press/Northeastern University that documents this point (https://usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2023/04/`10/louisville-shooting-mass-killings-2023-united-states/11635108002).
Hauck points out that during the 100 days since January 1, 2023, there have been 146 mass shootings and 15 mass killings, or “shootings in which four or more people were killed, not including the shooters.” In the days after Hauck wrote his article, there have been other violent “mass” gun incidents. Hauck gives these examples.
- It started just days into the new year when a man fatally shot seven members of his family before dying by suicide in Utah.
- Then there were three mass shootings in California within a matter of days – in a house, a dance hall and two farms.
- Last month, a shooter killed three children and three adults in a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee.
- And Monday, five people were killed and nine injured in a shooting at a bank in Louisville, Kentucky.
James Densley, co-founder of the Violence Project, a nonprofit research center, says that the overall trend in mass shootings is that they are becoming more frequent.
“This year,” Huack notes, “there have been three mass killings in California, two in each of Alabama and Florida and one in Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, according to the database. The killings have left at least 79 people dead and 20 injured, not including the shooters.”
“Of the 15 mass killings, four were public shootings, and most of the others were family-related incidents, said James Alan Fox, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston who oversees the USA TODAY database, which goes back to 2006.
“Only two other times since 2006 has the U.S. witnessed more than 15 mass killings by April 10, according to the database.
“‘It is more than the average, but we have seen that number before,’ Fox said. ‘It’s hard to predict what will happen by end of year, but it’s certainly on the high side.’”
146 mass shootings in which four victims injured
“The nonprofit Gun Violence Archive tracks all mass shootings, defined as a shooting in which at least four victims are hit by gunfire. There have been 146 mass shootings this year – up 10% over the previous record year of 2021, said Mark Bryant, executive director.”
The archive tracks publicly sourced media and police reports and includes incidents like the mass shooting at Michigan State University, where a man killed three students and injured five others in February.
Thousands more killed or injured in gun violence in 2023
“While mass killings garner a disproportionate share of media attention, they account for just a fraction of the gun violence injuries Americans face each year.
Nearly 5,000 people have died from gunfire so far in 2023, and nearly 9,000 have been injured, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Hundreds of children under age 11 have been killed or injured, along with more than a thousand teens, the database shows.
“The archive estimates thousands of people have also died by suicide, as about half of all gun violence deaths in the U.S. each year are deaths by suicide.
“Gun violence is also increasingly seeping onto school grounds, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. Incidents in which a gun was brandished or fired or a bullet hit school property reached all-time highs last year, according to the database, which goes back to 1970.
“That data includes gang-related shootings, domestic violence, shootings at sports games, accidents and more. There have been more than 100 such incidents on school grounds this year, the database shows.” In addition, there were more than 500 road rage shootings in 2022.”
Gun violence has affected most families in the US, new survey finds
Deidre McPhillips reports on the findings of a new survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation (https://cnn.com/2023/04/11/health/gun-violence-widespread-impact-kff/index.html). She refers to the following findings.
“Nearly 1 in 5 adults has had a family member killed by a gun, including in homicide and suicide. About as many adults have been personally threatened with a gun, and about 1 in 6 adults has witnessed an injury from a shooting, the survey found.”
She also notes that research shows the following.
- These tragic trends are part of a gun epidemic that has become deadlier than ever in the US. There were nearly 49,000 gun-related deaths in 2021, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – an unprecedented surge of about 23% over two years during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- The vast majority of adults say they worry at least sometimes that they or someone in their family will become a victim of gun violence, the new KFF survey found. Nearly a quarter of parents of children younger than 18 say they worry about it daily or almost daily.
- Guns are now the leading cause of death among children and teens in the US, surpassing car accidents in 2020. In no other comparable country are firearms within the top four causes of mortality among children, according to another recent KFF analysis.
- There are vast disparities in who’s dying from guns, too. A recent study found that the homicide rate among young Black men was nearly 10 times higher than the overall firearm death rate in the US in 2021.
- According to the new KFF survey, Black adults are more than twice as likely as White adults to have lost a loved one to gun violence and to have personally witnessed someone being shot.
- The weight of that disparity is felt heavily in the Black community. One in 6 Black adults say that they don’t feel at all safe in their neighborhoods, far higher than the share of White or Hispanic adults, according to the new KFF survey. About a third of both Black and Hispanic adults say they worry daily or almost daily that a family member will become a victim of gun violence, and about 1 in 5 say that gun-related crimes, injuries and deaths are a constant threat to their local community.
The Nashville murders on March 27
AP News reported on March 28, 2023, about what we knew then about the Covenant school shooting in Nashville (https://apnews.com/article/covenant-nashville-school-shooting-what-to-know).
- Six people were killed at a small, private Christian school just south of downtown Nashville on Monday after a shooter opened fire inside the building of about 200 students, police said.
- Police received a call about an active shooter at The Covenant School — a Presbyterian school — around 10:15 a.m. Authorities said that about 15 minutes after that call to police, the shooter was dead. The remaining students were ferried to a safe location to be reunited with their parents.
- Nashville police said six people, including three students, were killed. The victims were identified as Cynthia Peak, 61; Katherine Koonce, 60; Mike Hill, 61; and Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all age 9. Police officers also killed the shooter.
- The website of The Covenant School, founded in 2001, lists a Katherine Koonce as the head of the school. Her LinkedIn profile says she has led the school since July 2016. Peak was a substitute teacher, and Hill was a custodian, according to investigators.___
- Police gave unclear information on the shooter’s gender. For hours, police identified the shooter as a 28-year-old woman and eventually as Audrey Hale. Then at a late afternoon press conference, the police chief said that Hale was transgender.
- Police said the shooter had made a detailed map of the school and conducted surveillance of the building before carrying out the massacre.
- Police said Hale had two “assault-style” weapons and a pistol when Hale shot through the front door to enter the building. Police said Tuesday that Hale had legally purchased seven firearms from five different stores in the Nashville area.
- Investigators found a sawed-off shotgun, a second shotgun and other unspecified evidence during a search of Hale’s home. Police Chief John Drake said Hale’s parents were unaware that Hale had obtained most of the weapons. They told police Hale was under a doctor’s care for an undisclosed emotional disorder, Drake said. Hale’s parents also said they believed Hale had only purchased one gun and had sold it.
- A team of five Nashville police officers entered the school after the initial call, said Aaron, the police spokesperson. While clearing the first floor of students and staff, they heard shots being fired on the second floor.
- Two of the officers opened fire in response and fatally struck Hale at about 10:27 a.m., police said. Police identified Rex Engelbert, a four-year member of the force, and Michael Collazo, a nine-year member, as the officers who fatally shot Hale.
- The six-minute video supplements a release late Monday, of about two minutes of edited surveillance footage that shows the shooter’s car driving up to the school, glass doors being shot out and the shooter ducking through one of them.Investigators were sent to the shooter’s home shortly after Hale was killed, police said. Hale had a map of the school with a planned route for the shooting, and officers found writings, police said.
Tennessee has permissive gun laws
Here is a summary of the gun law situation in Tennessee from Everytown Research (https://everytownresearch.org/rankings/state/tennessee).
“Although Tennessee has the tenth-highest rate of gun deaths in the country, the state has only a few basic laws aimed at reducing gun violence. Indeed, legislators in Tennessee have recently weakened the state’s policies, eliminating the carry permitting requirement, allowing nearly anyone in the state to carry loaded firearms in public, concealed or open, without a background check, permit, or safety training.
“The Volunteer State does have several of the policies aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands—including prohibitions for people convicted of felonies or hate crimes, fugitives from justice, people who pose a danger due to mental health, and domestic abusers.” But no restrictions, for example, on access to or ownership of assault weapons.
None of this is surprising, knowing that Tennessee is a “red” gerrymandered state that is governed at the state level by Republican governor and legislative super-majorities. This is so, even though polls find a majority of the state’s voters favor stronger gun safety legislation and Nashville and other major cities have Democratically controlled mayors and city councils that also want stronger gun safety laws. Kathy Gilsinan provides an in-depth account of this political conflict (https://politico.com/news/magazine/2023/04/14/tennessee-culture-war-nashville-00091784).
Failure to strengthen gun laws in the aftermath of the Nashville mass killing
The Tennessee Republican legislators failed to act meaningfully on the Nashville school shooting. Marta W. Aldrich provides information on this aspect of the gun issue (https://tn.chalkbeat.org/2023/4/4/23670446/tennessee-gun-legislation-deferred-nashville-covenant-school-shooting0gardenhire).
The day after the shooting, “thousands of Nashville students marched on the Tennessee State Capitol demanding urgent action to restrict guns. However, the Republican-dominated legislature did little to address their demands for meaningful gun safety laws.
The state Judiciary Committee had already passed a bill that would drop Tennessee’s legal age to carry a gun from 21 to 18. Another bill “would arm public school teachers and staff with a concealed handgun if they are willing, have a state-issued permit, and complete firearms training. Staff at Tennessee’s private schools already have that option if their administrators approve.”
Aldrich points out that proponents of gun control “support a so-called safe storage bill requiring people to secure any weapons they leave in vehicles and boats as a way to keep them from falling into the hands of criminals. That measure was deferred, too. And Democrats were in support of a plan “to create a so-called red flag law, similar to the one that passed in Florida after a 2018 shooting killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.”
Then, eight days after the shooting in Nashville, a key legislative committee, the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Republican Todd Gardenhire, voted 7-2 along party lines to defer action on any gun-related legislation until 2024. Gun control advocates viewed the delay as “an affront to the memories of the six victims.”
The Republican state governor, Bill Lee, “invited lawmakers to bring him legislation that would prevent people who are in the midst of a mental health crisis from having access to weapons, as long as the measure would not impede Second Amendment rights.” He makes no mention of gun violence and the need to regulate guns.
Retribution, with racist elements
Emily Cochrane and Eliza Fawcett report on how the Tennessee Republican House dismissed two Black Democratic legislators (https://nytimes.com/2023/04/06/us/tennessee-house-democrats-expelled.html).
The Tennessee House voted on Thursday [April 6] to expel two Democrats. Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, “one week after they interrupted debate by leading protesters in a call for stricter gun laws in the wake of a shooting that left six dead at a Christian school.”
“An effort to expel a third Democrat, Representative Gloria Johnson, who had stood by the two men in the front of the chamber and joined in the chants during the protest, fell short by one vote.” Johnson attributed this to the white color of her skin.
The expulsions of two of the state’s youngest Black representatives, carried out before lawmakers were scheduled to leave for the Easter weekend, were a stunning culmination to a week that saw the funerals for the six killed in the shooting, hundreds of students and teachers walking out of school to protest at the General Assembly, and a vitriolic debate in the legislature about democracy in the state.
As protesters flooded the Capitol again on Thursday, their chants of “Gun control now” and “Not one more” were deafening outside the House chamber. After the final vote, the crowds in the galleries burst into angry yells and cries of “Shame on you,” with fists held high above their heads.
Cochrane and Fawcett note, “The ousted lawmakers could run again for their seats. But their expulsions temporarily left over 140.000 residents in Memphis and Nashville without representation in the House of Representatives.”
Justifying the expulsions
Republicans called the protests for better gun control in Tennessee an ‘insurrection.’ It’s not the first time they’ve misused the term, according to Matthew Brown (https://washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/04/14/gop-insurrection-term-misuse).
Brown considers how Tennessee Republican officials are attempting to delegitimate the Democratic representatives who protested the lack of action on gun control after the Nashville murders by calling them “insurrectionists”
Here’s some of his analysis.
“On the morning of March 30, hundreds of protesters marched into the Tennessee Capitol calling for gun control legislation after a shooter killed six people, including three children, at a Nashville Christian school.
“When three state lawmakers interrupted debate over an education bill to lead demonstrators gathered in the chambers’ galleries in chants, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) recessed the body for just under an hour and ordered security to clear the assembly. The protesters, who were largely parents and students, committed no violence and no arrests or property damage took place at the Capitol, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
“But during an interview with a local radio station that evening, Sexton compared the actions of two of the lawmakers to Jan. 6 rioters, saying their behavior was ‘at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the Capitol.’
“Experts say the comparison is misguided and inaccurate. But the comments, which were echoed by others on the right such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson, fit an evolving pattern of Republicans accusing Democrats of ‘insurrection’ even when the label doesn’t apply.
Republicans have not yet won the war against those who want meaningful gun regulation
Kathy Gilsinan makes this point (https://politico.com/news/magazine/2023/04/14/tennessee-culture-war-nashville-00091784).
Despite their relative success in voter suppression and an extensive pro-gun organizing and propaganda, Republicans have not convinced cities even in Republican-dominated states. This is true in Tennessee. But they have used their influence in rural areas, in some suburbs, and in smaller cities to enable Republicans to win elected state offices. Once in power, they move to reduce or eliminate gun regulations and allow guns to reach people without background checks, red-line laws, limits on access and ownership of guns, assault guns, and more. Gilsinan elaborates.
“…something happening all over the country, at every level of government, in which the preferences of voters often filter through representative bodies whose lopsided majorities don’t really represent the electorate of the state around them. In Tennessee’s case, the metro area of Nashville, its most populous city and the economic engine of the state, finds itself with little policy influence inside a gun-friendly Legislature, while also being the site of three anguishing mass shootings in just over five years: At a church, at a Waffle House, and now at a Christian school. But it’s not just a Nashville problem — public opinion across Tennessee actually favors some tightening of gun laws, even while the Legislature prior to the Covenant shooting was using the unassailable power of its supermajority to move in the opposite direction, notably with a law allowing people over 21 to carry a gun without a permit.”
Structural factors make gun reform increasingly difficult
Gilsinan posits that the structural incentives don’t favor meaningful run regulation. She quotes Pastor Tucker.
“‘To me, it follows a national narrative,’ Pastor Tucker told me on Tuesday. ‘We look at what’s happening in Florida; Texas; Jackson, Mississippi’ — all red states reflecting similar tensions with their blue cities, where state legislatures have struck at local control in their largest population centers — ‘all of those things are interconnected. … Whoever is in power becomes the gatekeeper of the tenets of democracy. But it appears that there are folks across this country, and here in Tennessee, willing to throw those things out the window.’”
It has become increasingly clear that “the metro area of Nashville, Tennessee’s most populous city and the economic engine of the state, finds itself with little policy influence inside a gun-friendly legislature,” one that has become dominated by Republicans who win elections in the rural areas of the state, in a gerrymandered political map that puts Democrats at severe electoral disadvantages.” Gilsinan continues: “Tennessee Republican legislators have “crafted one of the stricter voting regimes in the country — which includes permanent disenfranchisement for certain felons, a strict voter ID law (gun permits count, but college student IDs don’t), and a requirement to register at least 30 days before the election. (There is no waiting period for purchasing a gun.).”
Nonetheless, “metro-area residents do vote for Democrats: In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden notched nearly 65 percent in the county that includes Nashville, a five-point improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing there.”
Greater Nashville, attractive to the tech industry and tourists, is the economic engine of the state, accounting for some 40 percent of the state’s GDP.
Gilsinan continues. “This political gap, combined with Nashville’s economic dominance, is a recipe for resentment. Especially because that gap is a product not only of Tennessee’s underlying conservatism, but also of policy decisions the Republican majority has made over time to entrench its dominance. As parties in power are wont to do, they’ve drawn themselves into safe legislative districts at the state and federal levels. ‘They’ve been stealing seats,’ said Charlane Oliver, a Democratic Nashville-area state senator and co-founder of the Equity Alliance which, among other things, works to increase Black voter turnout.”
“It is absolutely easier to get a gun than to vote in Tennessee,” Charlane Oliver said.) Perhaps not coincidentally, Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom of all 50 states in voter turnout. Trump beat Biden roughly 60-40 there in 2020 (compare that to Gore’s mere 3-point loss in 2000 for a measure of the state’s political shift), but a third of voters didn’t bother at all, and that was in a record year for Tennessee turnout. The state still ranked 46th in the nation for turnout that year.”
“In this case, the rural voters, they’re the tail wagging the dog,” said Lisa Quigley, who served as chief of staff to the Democratic congressman who held what was once the Nashville seat. “The dog is just a tiny puppy with a great big tail. And there’s three little tiny puppies now in Nashville.” At the federal level, Quigley said, “there’s no place Nashvillians have to go, with two Republican senators that are quite conservative and seen as very much on the right side of the right.”
Still, the exercise of supermajority Republican power may have exposed its limits: The unwitting result of turning protest leaders into national political martyrs, standing on principle for the safety of teachers and schoolchildren, is that the kinds of gun laws Tennessee Republicans have so far resisted might now actually have a chance.
The Republican Party and other right-wing proponents continue to use their power and resources in support of maximum gun deregulation. So far, there are blue states that have laws that restrict some aspects of gun access and ownership. But the country is deeply divided on partisan grounds with no reconciliation in sight. If Trump or some other demagogic Republican wins the 2024 presidential election, the Party will no doubt follow the hard line of the National Rifle Association and create a nation-wide situation where there is little or no gun regulation. Indeed, at the NRA convention on April 14 and 15, Trump and other aspiring Republican presidential candidates promised to advance the “freedom” of gun owners by supporting unbridled access and ownership.
Jonathan Allen writes about what Trump said at the NRA conference on gun rights (https://nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-says-mass-shootings-arent-gun-problems-nra-convention-rcna79775).
“‘I was proud to be the most pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment president you’ve ever had in the White House,’ Trump said to an audience that leapt to its feet, cheered and chanted ‘U-S-A’ when he was introduced. ‘And with your support in 2024, I will be your loyal friend and fearless champion once again as the 47th president of the United States.’”
“This is not a gun problem,” [Trump] added, as he batted cleanup for a long list of Republican officials and office seekers. “This is a mental health problem, this is a social problem, this is a cultural problem, this is a spiritual problem.”
“During his speech,” Allen writes, “Trump made several specific policy promises. He said he would prod Congress to pass legislation creating a national system of reciprocity to allow people to carry concealed weapons while visiting other states.
“He also said that he would establish a tax credit to subsidize gun purchases and training for teachers, and that he would direct the Food and Drug Administration to study the effects of transgender hormone therapy on ‘extreme depression, aggression and even violence.’”
“Noting that he [Trump] appointed three justices to a Supreme Court that has expanded gun rights, Trump also pledged to release a list of potential Supreme Court picks — as he did during his first two campaigns — before the general election in 2024.”
Withal, the fight isn’t over. One example of the resistance to the Republican guns-everywhere approach of the Republicans et. al. comes from Nashville, where,” as reported by Jake Johnson, reinstated Justin Johnson and fellow Democrat state Sen. Charlane Oliver filed a sensible gun bill on April 14 titled “Protect Kids Not Guns Act.” (https://commondreams.org/news/jones-protect-kids-act). The bill
“…would, among other changes, ban the possession of large-capacity magazine, defined as ‘an ammunition-feeding device with capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.’ The Nashville shooter, who killed three young children and three adults at a Nashville Christian school last month, fired more than 150 rounds in a matter of minutes.
“The new legislation would also add restrictions on who can sell guns and require that Tennesseans under an extreme risk protection order—meaning they’re deemed a threat to themselves or others—immediately surrender all firearms and ammunition in their possession as well as any handgun carry permit to Tennessee authorities.
Perhaps such proposals from Democrats will gain political and electoral momentum, if an increasing number of citizens are encouraged to vote for Democrats as the trends in mass shootings and killings continue and as citizens learn that deaths from guns do down in states when guns are well regulated.