Sen. Doug Jackson went on an uninterrupted 16-minute speaking spree on the Senate floor Thursday, during which he unloaded a magazine’s worth of withering criticism at advocates of restricting the right to carry firearms for self defense.
“The problem is not law-abiding citizens with guns, the problem is criminals with guns,” said Jackson, a Democrat from Dickson. “The problem is not the gun, it is who has the gun.”
The issue at hand was the guns-in-bars legislation the Tennessee General Assembly spent much of the 2010 session reloading after a Nashville judge trigger-locked last year’s version. Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed the latest legislation a week ago, and as expected, the Senate overrode his veto in decisive fashion Thursday, 22-10. A similar result is likely in the House, as the governor has himself said he expects.
But Jackson took the opportunity of the vote to declare the issues at stake in the debate are much broader than just the guns-in-bars matter, per se, or the governor’s veto of it.
“Can we call ourselves ‘free’ if government attempts to arbitrarily dictate how, when, where — or even if — citizens can defend themselves? Should not government have to at least establish a compelling interest to restrict fundamental rights?” Jackson asked at one point. “If not, if your answer to that question is no, then can you call it a right?”
As for the veto itself, Jackson asserted that Bredesen basically ignored the political reality that one way or another the General Assembly was again going to pass legislation allowing guns in places where people consume alcohol. He suggested the governor essentially abdicated his place at the negotiation table on the issue in favor of maintaining a dead-end public posture of intransigence.
“For two years I have asked the administration to work with us on all provisions of this bill,” Jackson said. “This session I asked the deputy governor and the director of legislative affairs to communicate with the bill sponsors and the committees on safeguards the governor referenced last year in his veto announcement.”
“I directly asked the governor personally to work with us and communicate with us what he would like to see in this legislation,” Jackson added. “To date, I have had no communication whatsoever from the administration — none about what provisions this bill should or should not have in the view of the executive branch.”
The governor’s spokeswoman, Lydia Lenker, defended her boss following Jackson’s remarks in an email to TNReport: “The Governor has clearly communicated his concerns with this legislation with the members of the General Assembly, through his public statements and through his veto messages to the House and Senate Speakers. He believes this bill violates the fundamental principle that alcohol and guns don’t mix.”
Judging by the quiet aftermath of Jackson’s take-no-prisoners rhetorical rampage, he must’ve hit some of his targets — or at least aimed true enough to startle them into hunkering down — as there wasn’t a man standing to try rebutting or deflecting any of Jackson’s hail of words.
The only Senator to even attempt returning fire was Beverly Marrero. The Memphis Democrat indicated she and the constituents for whom she speaks had taken up positions against Jackson’s bill as a result of their agreement with the notion “that it is not a good idea to have guns in bars, and places that predominately serve alcohol.”
“I think that most of my constituents agree with that premise,” said Marrero. She asked that Jackson “respect (her) right to disagree.”
During the course of his barrage, Jackson accused the governor — and others who staunchly opposed the bill — of resorting to “emotion and fear” and employing platitudes like “guns and alcohol don’t mix” in place of legitimate policy discussion rooted in facts, evidence and historical experience. He blasted his foes for cleaving to their “fundamental principle” that firearms and booze-serving establishments are incompatible with one another while ignoring that Tennesseans enjoy the “fundamental right” to defend themselves with a gun if they so choose.
They also disregarded provisions that make it illegal for a gun-carrier to consume “one drop of alcohol,” he said.
“The right of self-defense is the right that transcends any constitution and any law,” Jackson said. “So I ask, what evidence exists to justify governmental restriction on this issue? You will not find the answer to that in the veto message of the administration.”
Bredesen’s veto message, dated May 18, did contain a passage stating that while he “value(s) the constitutional right that allows me to protect my home and family…this fundamental right has long been exercised within common-sense, reasonable rules.”
“These rules don’t diminish our collective freedom, but instead ensure that this fundamental right is exercised in a manner that ensures the survival of the right itself,” Bredesen wrote.
The governor also noted that the Volunteer State has “long prohibited the possession of firearms in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.” Bredesen proclaimed that the bill passed last year by the General Assembly was “reckless and lacking in basic safeguards to public safety.”
Rather than taking a “more responsible approach” after last year’s law was ruled unconstitutional, Bredesen continued, lawmakers “re-passed last year’s legislation in an even more expansive and dangerous form.”
He went on to urge the Legislature to “rethink the issue.”
Jackson did indeed give some indication that he’d been mulling the bill a bit lately, and the governor’s veto — along with the attached notice, which Jackson assured the Senate he’d read “very carefully.”
“Frankly, the veto notice contains clichés and conclusions, but I ask the members to look at it closely for what you do not see,” he said. “The veto notice is totally void of facts, data, statistics or information of any kind to substantiate the position of the executive branch. It shares no evidence that supports his decision to veto. “
“The governor has asked the legislature to re-think the issue,” Jackson concluded. “I respectfully ask the executive branch to ‘think’ the issue, and I ask for your support.”