Not entirely lost in the shuffle of other breaking news — Mayor Wharton's parleys with Governor Haslam for state aid on poverty issues and airport development; earthquake tremors on the board of the glitch-plagued Shelby County Election Commission; the continuing dispute among local jurisdictions for the right to impose a sales-tax increase — was another development on the legislative front.
Appearing last weekend with state Senate majority leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) on the WKNO-TV program Behind the Headlines, Senate minority leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis) made a somewhat jolting prediction: "It's 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."
Norris was more reserved about the likelihood of such a prospect, both on the program and at a later appearance of his own before members of the conservative Dutch Treat Luncheon group. The majority leader acknowledged that the concept of "constitutional carry" was indeed being bruited about these days, but, as he told the Dutch Treaters, he didn't see the matter being translated into floor votes just yet.
What was likely to be acted on, the two legislative leaders agreed on Behind the Headlines, was some version of the "parking-lot bill" that was pushed hard by the ever-active National Rifle Association in the General Assembly's last session but was stymied by the House leadership before it could be tested on the floor. The measure, which was stoutly resisted for safety and liability reasons by major Tennessee business interests, including Memphis-based FedEx, would have allowed guns to be kept in locked automobiles on commercial properties.
One of those responsible for blocking the bill was then Republican caucus leader in the state House, Debra Maggart of Hendersonville. For her pains, Maggart faced a GOP primary opponent, Courtney Rogers, who was heavily financed by the NRA, and lost her seat. The lesson was not lost on other members of the legislature, and the NRA and its allies are determined to try again for passage in the 2013 session, conceded Norris, who referred to the measure as the "safe-commute-to-work bill." (There's a euphemism for every purpose these days up Nashville way.)
Prospects for the parking-lot bill's passage would seem to be enhanced, inasmuch as last year's schism in GOP ranks may have been resolved by Maggart's fate and since Kyle, who had sought last year to ensure floor votes on the parking-lot bill, now forecasts more NRA support for Democratic legislators.
Still, we are hopeful Kyle's forecast concerning the abolition of all carry restrictions is merely a warning of a possible dystopia to come, not a promise. In the wake of several recent and well-known gun tragedies, the omnipresence of weaponry is an ever-growing threat nationwide. Sadly, the Tennessee legislature seems determined to lead the way in fulfilling the NRA's trigger-happy "solution" to the problem: turning the entire country into a modern-day version of the O.K. Corral.