Tennessee may soon be a wilder place than the legendary Wild West was when it comes to people openly packing sidearms.
State Senator Jim Kyle (D-Memphis), the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, said this week on the WKNO-TV program “Behind the Headlines” that a radical loosening of traditional firearms restrictions and regulations may be just around the corner. “It’s really gotten to the point that I think it’s realistic to expect that you’ll see a bill brought to do away with the gun permit law and just let people carry guns,” Kyle said.
Should such legislation be passed and become law, Tennessee would become a more open environment than were the supposedly wide-open towns of America’s Western frontier in the time of legendary lawmen like Wyatt Earp, when cowboys were expected to put their guns away before entering public establishments and visitors to a town were often required to leave their weapons with the local sheriff.
Kyle, who appeared on the show with his Senate Republican counterpart, majority leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), also saw the National Rifle Association, which maintains a powerful lobbying arm in Nashville, re-evaluating its political strategy. “The NRA is now taking a second look at Democratic candidates,” Kyle said, noting that the legislature’s dominant Republicans split in the last session on a bill that would have allowed guns to be stored in cars on the parking lots of businesses.
State Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, the GOP caucus chair in the House, kept the bill from coming to the floor for a final vote, reflecting the opposition to the bill of several of the state’s power business interests. The NRA sent a well-noticed signal of sorts when it heavily subsidized Maggart’s Republican primary opponent, Courtney Rogers, who defeated the incumbent.
And now the NRA, which has traditionally allied itself with the GOP, may be broadening its outlook, Kyle says. “They’ve spent the last several years putting all their eggs in one basket, and when the leadership said no vote, they didn’t have any place to turn.”
As a case in point, Kyle said, his Democratic colleague from Clarksville, state Senator Tim Barnes, who has a well-financed Republican opponent, had just been informed of a forthcoming endorsement by the NRA.
Though Norris did not hazard a prediction as to its fate, he said the parking-lot bill, which he termed “The Safe Commute to Work” bill, was “very important to us” and would get another look-see in the next legislative session.
Noting the sea change whereby Republicans, once a distinct minority, now control the Senate by a 20-1`3 majority,Kyle said the Democrats could influence several issues where there wasa clear division in the majority party.
The two legislative leaders each attested to their good working relationship but acknowledged disagreements on several key matters, notably education policy, with Norris, the primary author of legislation allowing municipal school districts, reiterating his belief that such districts should have been integrated into the plans of the Transition Planning Commission, and Kyle pointing out that much of the opposition to such districts came from citizens elsewhere in the county who were wary of having to subsidize them in relation to school buildings and other matters.
On the issue of voucher legislation, establishing conditions whereby public money could be used to pay for tuition at private schools, Norris cited parents’ “overwhelming support…for flexibility,” while Kyle said using state funding to send a child to elite private institutions like Hutchinson in Memphis “just would not be right.”
Kyle was also critical of new laws allowing public funding of “virtual” instruction by electronic means. “Every dollar we send out of state undermines public education,” he said.
Kyle and Norris seemed to agree that there was little the state could do to resolve issues between Delta Airlines and residents infuriated over high fares and questionable service to Memphis, a hub for the airline.
In a conversation after the WKNO program was recorded, both Kyle and Norris expressed reservations about the current length of early-voting periods in Tennessee elections, with Norris saying that the intensity of campaigns pointing up to election day had been diminished and Kyle saying that public interest in the election process has increasingly been lowered as early-voting periods have increased in duration.
The "Behind the Headlines" segment was first shown on WKNO, Channel 10 at 6:30 Friday night and will be repeated at 8:30 Sunday morning. Questioning Norris and Kyle were moderator Eric Barnes of the Daily News, Andrew Douglas of WMC-TV, Action News 5, and myself, Jackson Baker of the Memphis Flyer.