U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp does not have a gun-carry permit.
Neither does Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. Nor does businessman Mike McWherter.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has one. But therein lies only one way of measuring the intentions of candidates who will be judged by gun-rights advocates in the race to be the next governor of Tennessee.
The three Republican gubernatorial candidates will attend a banquet of Friends of NRA, a gun rights organization, Saturday in Nashville. And the candidates’ positions on the Second Amendment are certain to get plenty of attention.
Wamp, Haslam and Ramsey are the Republicans in the race. McWherter is the lone Democrat, but McWherter will be unable to attend the event Saturday. McWherter’s staff said Tuesday that he had a prior engagement but has attended Friends of NRA events in the past, including one in Henry County a few months ago.
McWherter does have a hunting license and is a lifetime member of the NRA, his campaign said, adding that the Democrat is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights and will work to ensure those rights are protected.
Wamp quickly acknowledged this week that he does not have a carry permit, although he frequently speaks in support of Second Amendment rights. Ramsey, who voted to override Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto of the guns-in-bars bill before the close of the legislative session, says he falls squarely in line with gun-rights advocates as a candidate for governor. Haslam says he doesn’t know of any differences between his positions on gun rights and the pro-gun stands of his Republican opponents, but Haslam has been criticized for some of his past positions.
Ramsey said Haslam was once a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns program. Haslam had joined the group of 700-plus mayors but left the organization saying it went astray from its original mission.
“I’m the only one to actually sponsor legislation to promote Second Amendment rights,” Ramsey said of the gubernatorial field. “Congressman Wamp and Washington, D.C. in their own way may have voted in favor of such things, but let me assure you I carried the bill that gives gun-carry permits in Tennessee. I carried the bill that kept cities and counties from suing manufacturers of firearms in the late ’90s.
“I’ve not just been one to talk the talk, I’ve walked the walk. I have a lifetime hunting license. I own lots of guns myself, because I’m a collector, and I’m a hunter.”
Ramsey won’t be outdone in voicing support for Second Amendment rights, however, if Wamp can help it.
“I have a long history of supporting gun rights,” Wamp said. “They know I’m their friend. To be honest with you, if Ron weren’t running, I would have incredible support from gun owners, gun organizations, gun activists. Frankly, they have two people in this race that have both been their faithful supporters. And as a result, they’re all out.”
Wamp was referring to Ramsey and himself as supporters and gun-rights advocates keeping their powder dry in the primary.
“That’s unfortunate, I guess, if either one of us would like to solidify that particular element of the vote, because it’s substantial in our state,” Wamp said.
Wamp said he is a longstanding gun owner.
“I’ve had many guns of all different flavors in my life. I’m an active shooter,” Wamp said. But when asked exactly what he owns, Wamp replied, “I’m like Fred Thompson. I don’t tell anybody what I have.”
Wamp has said publicly that he sleeps with a gun near his head.
“It’s in the bedside table,” he said. “I don’t mean like in bed with me. It’s within a lean and a reach.”
Haslam said he is convinced that gun-rights activists just want to know his policy convictions.
“I think the main things the NRA is concerned about is where I stand on the protection of Second Amendment rights,” Haslam said. “And I think they’re very comfortable with that. I’ve had lots of conversations, and I think they are very comfortable with my commitment to the Second Amendment.”
When asked if he could distinguish his views on guns from his opponents, Haslam said, “I don’t know that there are any big differences. I really don’t. I don’t think there’s a nickel’s worth of difference between us.”
One of the issues that has surfaced over guns is whether the state’s database on those who have gun-carry permits should be part of public record.
“We need to have the same protections on gun-carry permits we have on driver’s licenses,” Ramsey said. “They should never be allowed to be published in newspapers to search in databases. I think no public good comes out of that, yet at the same time the police departments and others should have access to those.
“But I think what that really does is proves the responsibility that handgun carry permit holders do have.”
Haslam said he doesn’t think the data should be publicly accessible.
“I don’t think so, for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I would be against that.”
Wamp said he does not want the data to be public, noting it’s an important element of the gun debate.
“Even getting a right to carry permit, pure Second Amendment protectors are concerned that once you have a right-to-carry permit the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is going to have your information about what you have,” Wamp said.
Uncompromising Second Amendment protectors believe even a right-to-carry permit is an invasion of Second Amendment rights, Wamp said. He noted the position of the underfunded fourth Republican candidate in the race, Joe Kirkpatrick, a constitutional conservative who has said the Second Amendment is itself the only right-to-carry “permit” Americans should really ever need.