U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is but one vote out of 435 in the United States House of Representatives, but he has been in office 12 years now.
His vote against the House's symbolic passage of a gun control bill Wednesday was not surprising, given his previous votes and remarks, and his constituency's conservative bent. But, given Chattanooga's two recent violent weekends in which three were killed and 20 were injured, we believe he owes his constituents more than the brief three-paragraph news release that went out under his name following the vote.
"Gun control always restricts the rights of law-abiding, responsible Americans to practice their Second Amendment rights and never stops criminals from breaking the law," Fleischmann's statement said. "The legislation passed in the House contains unconstitutional restrictions on Americans' rights, such as prohibiting 18- to 20-year-olds from buying nearly all semiautomatic rifles and shotguns and establishes federal red flag laws that take away responsible gun owners' right to due process."
We believe the congressman should have expounded on his first sentence, explaining why gun control measures "never [stop] criminals from breaking the law." He should have explained how gun control laws largely affect those who purchase their guns legally but commit only a small percentage of the shootings. He should have cited statistics showing the high percentage of such shootings committed by people using illegal guns.
In the wake of the shootings the last two weekends, both Chattanooga's police chief, Celeste Murphy, and its mayor, Tim Kelly, referenced illegal guns.
So Fleischmann's point was valid. Indeed, the first arrest following Sunday morning's shooting on McCallie Avenue was of a man cited for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
But we would like the congressman to also explain — referring to two proposals in the House bill — why he believes it's OK for 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to have semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, and if he believes federal red flag laws concerning individuals who who might be a threat to themselves or others would be appropriate in any situation.
In other words, we would like to know if there's any slightly restrictive gun legislation that Fleischmann — who fashions himself amenable to work across the aisle — is willing to work on.
We're aware that largely restrictive measures are not going to pass the House and Senate this year, but surely there are small compromises that could be made to tighten a law here or there or close a loophole or two. We're not naive enough to believe they would stop all shootings, but if any kind of collaborative legislation could stop one or two shootings here and another couple of shootings there it would be worth it.
Fleischmann, in the brief news release, went on to say what he would like to see: "Instead of restricting Americans' rights, we must focus on hardening schools, funding mental health services, expanding drug treatment and interdiction, information sharing between law enforcement, and giving our police resources to go after criminals and flood high crime areas with officers."
The congressman, finishing his sixth term, must have at least a little clout by now. If he's serious about the growing violence problem in the country, and we believe he is, and if he understands that Chattanooga has been on the front lines lately, and we believe he does, then we urge him to find someone across the aisle with whom to work to craft a bill that both offers what he suggests and makes minor but important changes in gun laws.
Oh, we know it's an election year, we're aware of close party divisions in the House and Senate, and we know of the far left and right positions taken by each party, but don't we send our representatives to Washington, D.C., in the hopes they'll work together? We used to.
But if all that's just a pipe dream, we would at least want Fleischmann — in light of the recent Chattanooga violence — to offer a more detailed explanation about why gun control won't stop criminals from breaking the law and a more vigorous and detailed defense of his specific positions as they relate to the tenets in the gun measure the House just passed (but is likely going nowhere in the Senate).
Of course, the congressman doesn't have to be more specific. He's in a district where a Republican is likely to get at least 60% of the vote without even trying. He's is in a district that is distinctly pro-gun. He can tell people every election he's Tennessee's only appropriator, that he's helped bring home the bacon for Chickamauga Dam and Oak Ridge, and that he's the chairman of the House Nuclear Cleanup Caucus.
But we'd feel better about him if he'd weigh in a little more deeply, with more than the usual talking points, on the violence plaguing his little corner of the world.