Dear Gov. Haslam,
We commend your thoughtful letter to members of the Tennessee General Assembly whose guns-in-parks legislation you signed into law on Friday -- the same legislation that in essence overrides local laws prohibiting guns in our local parks.
In the letter, you wrote: "I think it is critical going forward that we work together with local leaders to assess the impact of this law and that we all listen and respond to the questions and concerns of those leaders as they work to implement it successfully."
That was nice of you, Governor. But we wonder why, in retrospect, you didn't think it was critical to work together with local leaders when they they wanted to head off the impact of this law. Good heavens, you used to be one of them when, as mayor of Knoxville, you opposed similar legislation!
And we wonder why you (and state lawmakers) did not listen and respond to the questions and concerns of those leaders when they said to you that they didn't want guns in their parks. For goodness' sake, Governor, they had actually passed their own local laws banning guns in parks. And they spent city and county money on signs to that effect. Was that not a clear enough message?
Apparently, however, the clamor from the National Rifle Association and the state's many gun manufacturers was so loud that you and legislators didn't hear anything else. And certainly you didn't hear the large number of Tennesseans who don't want to visit public spaces where guns are invited, rather than prohibited.
So now it's official.
You and our state lawmakers have said that you know more than local leaders and police chiefs about how life should be in local towns and cities. But heaven forbid that Washington try to improve health care or education in our state. That's when you hitch up your holsters, arch your backs and scream about "state's rights."
This guns-in-parks bill was the same one that was delayed for a few weeks with an amendment to allow guns in the statehouse where the General Assembly meets and works.
Governor, you weighed in pretty quickly on that, saying it wasn't a good idea. Ultimately the hypocrisy of lawmakers won out and they stripped that amendment. We understand your concern. Guns around you and around them would be unsafe. As for the rest of us? Well, we know the answer: Who cares.
Then on Friday, Governor, you added political insult to political injury.
Your reasoning for not vetoing this dangerous legislation was that the bill's final version is a "vast improvement" over how it started.
The truth more likely could be termed "vast face-saving." It takes only 50 votes to override your veto, but 61 Tennessee House members voted in favor of the original measure and still more supported the updated version.
The question that remains, Governor, is what will happen in the next session of the General Assembly when, for at least the third time, one of our assemblymen and NRA disciples introduces a new open carry bill that would eliminate Tennessee's requirement for citizens to obtain a state-issued permit to openly carry handguns.
Tennessee already doesn't require a permit to own a handgun, so the handgun-carry permit is the way Tennessee requires firearms training and background checks. Last year and this year, the NRA found sponsors for bills to do away with all of that. In 2014, the bill was defeated in the last days of the session. This year, a similar bill didn't make it out of committee -- probably because it would have made passage of the guns-in-parks bill more difficult.
Maybe next time, you think? We'll be watching.
We'll also be watching to see how you and the lawmakers "work together with local leaders to assess the impact of this law."
We know the impact. More guns in more places. And more violence.
We're tired of it. And, Governor, you should be too.