Bill Haslam has been considered a centrist Republican. But he’s either been hiding his more extremist views, or he’s willing to kowtow to the far right wing of his party to win their vote, or he doesn’t have the spine to keep the stands he used to make. Regardless of the reason, he has just folded to the extreme guns-and-pro-life lobbies.
He promised the Tennessee Firearms Association on Monday that if the Legislature were to pass a bill to eliminate the state’s requirement for a permit to carry guns, he would, as governor, sign it into law — and let anyone carry a gun all the time without the need for a permit.
In a bow to the extreme end of the anti-abortion faction, he’s also just declared himself an opponent of the family-planning contraceptive program now provided to poor people under Tennessee’s Medicaid program, TennCare. He now says that doesn’t fit his strict pro-life views.
When Haslam melted on reasonable gun-carry rules in an address to the Tennessee Firearms Association, he missed an opportunity to defend Tennessee’s process for authorizing gun-carry permits, now held by approximately 300,000 Tennesseans.
Asked by several TFA members why the permitting process was necessary if the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment authorizes a personal — “natural” — right to go armed, Haslam said it has been viewed as a practical way to implement gun-carry rights.
Pressed further, he failed to defend Tennessee’s law and the most recent United States Supreme Court decision, which asserted not only the personal right to possess firearms, but also confirmed states’ authority to impose regulation on gun-carry rights to protect public safety.
Instead, he just folded. He made no mention of how the permitting process allows the state to withhold permits from felons and criminals, from people subject to court-ordered restraining orders, and, through a mandatory background check, from people with mental health disorders and other legal issues.
If the Legislature were to pass a law eliminating state control and its permitting process for gun-rights, he said simply, he would sign the bill into law.
Willfully leading the state into such Wild West territory, of course, would be a reckless and gross abuse of public policy. Current state firearms laws, though weaker than those of many states, at least provide a semblance of public oversight to weed out felons and the unstable. It also requires applicants to pass a gun-safety course.
In an era when the extreme gun-rights crowd — a fraction of Tennessee’s citizenry — has already persuaded the Legislature to allow gun-carry by permit-holders in parks, restaurants and bars that serve alcohol half the night, Tennessee needs a governor willing to stand as a voice of reason.
The National Rifle Association’s legislative agenda in states across the nation has amply demonstrated the NRA’s unending zeal to push for constant expansion of gun-carry rights. Without a governor willing to stand for police chiefs, district attorneys, mayors and citizens who object to wholly unfettered gun rights, there would soon be no limits on open gun-carry.
Haslam’s surrender to the TFA is surprising for another reason. As Knoxville’s mayor, he joined New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” campaign. Without a permitting process, police and law-abiding citizens would have to contend with the Darwinian consequences of a gun-carry society totally at odds with readily enforceable standards on gun-carry.
Haslam’s reversal begs support for his Democratic opponent, Mike McWherter. The Democrat, though a member of the NRA long before Haslam joined, strongly supports the state’s present gun-carry permit procedures. He also supports continuance of the family-planning aid for poor people, which has served both families and the anti-abortion cause by helping reduce unwanted pregnancies.
If Haslam can’t stand up for reasonable positions when he’s already a heavy favorite in the November election, he doesn’t deserve to win the governor’s race. Mike McWherter does.