Cook: A gun advocate speaks out

Cook: A gun advocate speaks out

July 15th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

It is one thing for me to criticize Tennessee's new gun law, which allows almost anyone and everyone to now carry a loaded firearm -- shotgun, rifle or handgun -- in their car.

It is quite another for Mark Haskins to.

"I may be wrong. I hope I am wrong. But I see a lot of problems with it," he said.

For three decades, Haskins was a Chattanooga police officer. Since 1996, he's been a firearms instructor, and through his current handgun permit carry class at Shooter's Depot has taught thousands of men and women how to earn their carry permit. A half-dozen times during our conversation, he reminded me of his pro-gun stance.

"I am a lifetime member of the NRA," he said. "But there's a big issue here."

The new law took effect on July 1. It removes the earlier safeguards in place regarding who among us could carry a loaded firearm in their vehicle. In the past, citizens were allowed to carry a loaded firearm in their car after they had obtained a state-issued handgun carry permit. (People without permits could keep unloaded firearms in the vehicle provided the ammo was stored separately.)

"There was a good system in place," Haskins said.

Through the process of obtaining a carry permit, people become familiar with our gun laws -- such as when you can and can't shoot at an intruder -- as well as firearm safety and responsibility.

Plus, it weeds out those among us who should not be allowed to carry loaded firearms in public, like felons or DUI offenders, convicted stalkers or patients at mental health institutions. Anyone who has renounced his or her U.S. citizenship. Any illegal immigrants. Any soldier dishonorably discharged.

Can't pass a background check? Can't pass a written test? Or shooting test?

Then, you can't get carry permit.

And you can't drive around with a loaded gun.

"Now you've got a whole lot of people with no training who didn't have to go through the permit class who now may have loaded guns in their cars," Haskins said.

Mark Haskins, formerly of the Chattanooga Police Department, instructs a conceal carry permit class on the proper way to hold and sight a handgun at Sportsman's Indoor Shooting in Hixson.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

The law weakens the value of the carry permit. Now, loaded-gun-carrying-drivers must meet only two conditions:

• They are in lawful possession of the vehicle.

• They are not in violation of state or federal laws regarding gun possession or purchase. That's mainly two classifications of people.

"Convicted felons ... and [anyone] with domestic violence convictions," Haskins said.

In the past, when an officer pulled a driver over and saw a gun inside the car, the burden of responsibility was on the driver: either they've got a permit or they don't.

Now, the burden is on the officers.

• A cop pulls over four men in a car. There's a loaded handgun on the dashboard. Before, someone in the car would have to show a carry permit. Now, no one does.

• A cop pulls over three men in a car. There's a loaded handgun on the floor. The guy driving says it's his, but really, it belongs to the felon in the backseat. What does the officer do?

• A cop pulls over two men in a car, both of whom are carrying loaded handguns and were on their way to commit robbery. They have no carry permit and no prior history. Before, the officer could have asked for their permits, and then acted appropriately once they could not produce any. Now, the officer can't do anything.

• A cop pulls over one man in a car, who has a loaded 12-gauge across his lap. The man is a convicted felon, but doesn't admit that to the officer. How does the officer determine that?

Does he run a criminal background check, based on a hunch, without probable cause?

Do officers start running background checks on everyone? This new law could create a civil rights nightmare.

"We're going to run criminal histories on everybody that we stop now?" Haskins asked.

So how do you know if the driver can legally have that gun or not?

"Exactly," Haskins said.

And that is his greatest concern and greatest frustration with this new law. It puts police officers even deeper in harm's way.

"It's a big problem for officers," he said.

In 2014, we've seen 19 homicides and more than 50 shootings. There were three shootings in one hour on Sunday alone.

"Now, let's say we stopped somebody on the way to one of those shootings and pulled them over. Odds are good they wouldn't have a permit," Haskins said. "We could have stopped them. We could have averted them from that."

Not anymore.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.