Press Releases

TFA: TN Gov’t Looking for More Oversight of Political Advocacy Groups

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; August 20, 2014:

Nashville, TN – The Tennessee Charitable Solicitations Division is attempting to reclassify political advocacy organizations as “charities” which would allow increased oversight into the operations of these organizations. It might also might be a pretext to obtain increased oversight and perhaps even for the basis to claim the authority to inspect the books of organizations critical of Governor Haslam and the state legislature. The Tennessee Charitable Solicitations Divisions issued a specific written demand in July that the Tennessee Firearms Association register as a “charity” even though the TFA does not act as a charity nor is it recognized as a 501(c)(3) charity by the IRS.

“This is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to muzzle political opposition.” pointed out John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “If they can do this to the TFA, then they can do it to any other grassroots group. Who will be next?”

In a tactic similar to the recent federal IRS attacks on tea party groups, the Charitable Solicitations Division arbitrarily set a deadline of August 1 for the TFA to register as a “charity.” The timing of this is in line with the primary election cycle where the TFA and the affiliated TFA Legislative Action Committee played heavily in multiple state legislative elections.

“This is clearly a case of political retribution for targeting establishment politicians in the recent election cycle” Harris continued.

The Tennessee Firearms Association is a 501(c)4 organization under federal regulations and is not classified as a charitable organization by the IRS.

Press Releases Uncategorized

TFA: Gun Rights Advocates Have Successful 2014 Primary

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; August 9, 2014:

NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Firearms Associa(on played both a successful offense and defense in the August 8th primary elections. The TFA supported several pro-gun incumbent legislators who held their seats by a wide margin while also successfully supporting challengers against two incumbents with a history of opposing firearms legislation.

“The big government wing of the Republican Party lost the election in the grand scheme of things” observes John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Legislators the TFA backed who staunchly support the right to keep and bear arms ended up retaining their seats while opponents of gun bills lost or nearly lost their seats. This success sends a strong reminder
that Tennesseans consider the right to keep and bear arms fundamental and gun issues cannot be ignored in legislative elections”

Two pro-gun legislators, Senator Mae Beavers and Representative Courtney Rogers, were challenged by candidates backed by the establishment. However the TFA support of Sen. Beavers and Rep. Rogers helped ensure they held their seats with wide margins.
TFA was also heavily involved in the challenge to 18-year incumbent Representative Charles Sargent by local entrepreneur Steve Gawrys. The race ended with Rep. Sargent almost losing his seat by a margin of 254 votes causing the election to likely face a recount. Political experts have noted that if Rep. Sargent ultimately ends up victorious in this race, he will probably not seek another term in 2016 after taking heavy damage to his credibility and electability this time.

Local high school teacher David Byrd in Waynesboro overthrew the embattled incumbent Representative Vance Dennis with the help of a TFA direct mail program. Representative Dennis worked behind the scenes at the Capitol to kill pro-gun bills.

Although TFA does not play in federal races, John Harris also commented that “The TN 4th Congressional race and the US Senate race both demonstrate the need for closed primaries and runoff elections in Tennessee”.

Press Releases

TFA Open Records Request Reveals Fiscal Note Process Manipulated on Open Carry

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; July 14, 2014:

Nashville, TN – After a series of ‘Open Records Requests’ the Tennessee Firearms Association has uncovered documented evidence of misleading statements and the falsifying of a contrived fiscal note. These questionable actions were carried out by members of the Haslam Administration during the 2014 legislative session in an attempt to kill a pro-gun bill.

“This was apparently a deliberate ploy to kill legislation that the Haslam Administration opposed by misrepresenting the effect of the bill to the legislators,” noted John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Underhanded tactics such as this are unacceptable and Governor Haslam owes the citizens of Tennessee an explanation.”

The fiscal note fiasco started earlier this year when Sen. Mae Beavers and Rep. Micah Van Huss sponsored legislation to allow the open carry of handguns without a permit. The bill passed the Senate 25-2 (SB2424), despite behind the scenes opposition from the Haslam Administration. As the open carry bill moved through the House after passing in the Senate, it was delayed and then voted down in a Finance Sub-Committee after having a false fiscal note attached. The full House of Representative never considered the bill because of the shenanigans involving the false fiscal note in House Finance.

The fiscal note, added by the Administration, claimed that the open carry bill would cost the state government $100,000 by requiring that the word “concealed” be added to every valid handgun permit in Tennessee. However, the bill itself contained no such requirement. When pressed, the Department of Safety responded that departmental policy required adding the word “concealed” to the permits. However, when a request was made for the specific policy, the Department of Safety admitted that no such policy actually existed.

Almost 3,000 pages of state documents obtained by the Tennessee Firearms Association through the Open Records Requests reveal that a Haslam administration official, Bill Hedge, citing the non-existent “departmental policy” on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Safety, estimated that it would cost the State $100,000 to add the word “concealed” when handgun permits are printed. The administration’s estimate caused a “fiscal note” to be placed on the legislation and forced it to be rerouted to the House Finance Committee which is under the control of Rep. Charles Sargent.

After a legislative amendment (HA1127) was introduced to prohibit the Administration’s proposal to add the word “concealed” on each permit, Mr. Hedge defiantly declared in an April 8, 2014, e-mail that:

“Even though the amendment removed the requirement, the department by policy will in fact continue the designation of ‘Concealed’ on the Handgun Carry Permit….I am certifying that the department will in fact incur the (costs) to reflect the ‘concealed’ provision….”

Further, when pressed concerning which department policy required such a change, the Department of Safety admitted that it had misrepresented that there was an existing departmental policy as reflecting in an e-mail from Bill Hedge dated April 14, 2014:

“Currently, a written policy concerning information contained on the permit, including the ‘title’ of the document, does not exist.”

More significantly, the Open Records Requests revealed that the Department of Safety is under a multi-million dollar contract with a third party, L-1 Credentialing, Inc., to design and print the handgun permits along with other similar official state documents. That contract requires the third party to make changes in the design and format of the permits at no additional charge to state government. Department of Safety documents do not reference this contract in discussing the $100,000 estimate by Hedge nor do they detail why it would cost $100,000 to print the word “concealed” on the handgun permits even after the proposed legislation it was made clear by the sponsors that the legislation did not alter the handgun permits or convert them into concealed carry permits. The documents also reveal that the Haslam Administration was actively fighting the bill, that Department of Safety officials were working to stop the bill by creating estimates of printing costs, and that certain legislators were involved to create a fiscal note ensuring that the bill was rerouted to the House Finance Committee.

After the false Administration estimate was attached to the bill as a fiscal note, House rules required that the bill be considered by Charles Sargent’s Finance Committee because it had a (falsely) estimated cost to state government. Bill Gibbons, Commissioner of the Department of Safety, testified under oath that the legislation would add a concealment requirement to Tennessee’s handgun permits and that it would cost approximately $100,000 to start printing the word “concealed” on the handgun permits. The documents obtained in response to the Open Records Requests suggest that Commissioner Gibbons’ sworn testimony to the House Finance subcommittee was false in both respects. Mr. Gibbons’ testimony can be viewed here:

Legislative records indicate that the House Finance subcommittee knew that Gibbons’ testimony was false or misleading because the chairman announced just prior to the committee vote that they would assume a zero fiscal impact to the state for purposes of their votes on the legislation. Then, 10 members of the House Finance committee refused to allow the legislation to be moved forward thus prohibiting it from consideration by all members of the House of Representatives.

A complete and detailed write up, including source documents, will be available on the TFA web site soon:

The Tennessee Firearms Association was founded in 1995 and formed to defend the right to keep and bear arms in Tennessee. The TFA is Tennessee’s only no-compromise gun group.

Press Releases

TFA: Beavers Files Amendments to Address “Problems” With Safe Commute Law

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; February 3, 2013:

Nashville, TN – Gun rights bulwark Senator Mae Beavers has filed amendments to be addressed on the Senate Floor to address problems in the current law regarding a law passed in 2013 regarding handgun permit holders who commute to work and their right to store legally owned firearms in personal vehicles.

The amendments, which have been filed on Senate Bills 1700 and 1701, will allow workers in Tennessee to safely commute to work with a firearm in their vehicle without fear of either criminal prosecution or termination of employment. While Senator Mark Green’s bills (SB1700 and SB1701) are a step in the right direction, they do not adequately address the legal confusion surrounding the 2013 law. In addition, SB1700 and SB1701 do not prevent employers from firing employees who store personal items in personal vehicles.

Senator Beavers’ amendments would fix all the problems with the 2013 law, which was pushed through by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey even with notice of serious flaws. Senator Beavers’ amendments are intended to ensure that law abiding Tennessee firearms owners are protected while transporting firearms in their vehicles to and from work.

Senator Beavers’ amendments would provide that a citizen can store any item that he or she legally possesses, including a firearm, in any vehicle (other than an employer provided vehicle) that the citizen legally possesses. It is a simple clarification of Tennessee’s “castle doctrine” which equates the personal vehicle with the personal residence.

This type of change is necessary because current law does not fully protect employees from criminal prosecution nor does it provide any protection from losing their jobs if their vehicle contains an item they lawfully possess, especially a firearm. The Tennessee Attorney General issued an opinion (13-41) noting that the 2013 “parking lot” law did not actually protect lawful possession of a firearm from criminal prosecution or termination of employment.

Recently, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s office directed legislative staff lawyers to manufacture a legal opinion that stated exactly the opposite. The Tennessee Firearms Association understands the opinion from the Lieutenant Governor’s staff lawyers is faulty because testimony of the House bill sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Faison, disagrees with their conclusion regarding legislative intent. During testimony last year, Representative Jeremy Faison stated that the bill does not protect employees from termination or criminal prosecution, and that it was not the intent of the bill sponsor to do so. See statements of Rep. Faison in committee regarding HB118 on Feb 20, 2013.

In addition, approximately ten amendments were offered in 2013 on the House Floor by Representatives Mark Pody and John Mark Windle to address the serious and obvious flaws in the 2013 legislation before it was enacted. House leadership prohibited any of those amendments from being addressed on the merits. The defeat of these 2013 House floor amendments are evidence that the legislature knew of these flaws in the Ramsey legislation but did not take corrective action.

Even though the Tennessee Firearms Association discounts the opinion issued by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey’s lawyers, the fact that two divergent legal opinions exist on the 2013 law shows that significant confusion in the law must be addressed. Indeed, the confusion may be so significant that the 2013 law could be unconstitutionally vague.

This issue is not just about firearms however, as the rights of law abiding citizens to store items that they are lawfully allowed to possess in their vehicles while at work have also come into question. In 2012, a representative from Federal Express testified in the Senate Judiciary hearings on the same topic that they were able to fire employees for the mere possession of a Bible in their vehicle while parked on Federal Express property.

The Tennessee Firearms Association would have preferred that the problems with the 2013 law had been fully considered and discussed in the Senate Judiciary before these issues were sent to the Senate Floor. However, Senator Beavers’ bill (SB1733) and potentially other bills on this topic were not even considered or discussed by the Senate Judiciary when it took up this issue.

“Any vote against Senator Beavers’ amendment must be considered carefully as a vote against the Second Amendment, fundamental constitutional principles and the life safety of citizens, even if it is only a procedural vote,” said John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association. “Former Representative Debra Maggart was ousted from office by a huge margin due in part to her continual partisan efforts to block good Second Amendment legislation and impairing the rights of citizens to protect their families and lives. It is important to address these core constitutional and life safety issues carefully when they are raised.”

Press Releases

TFA: Legislature’s GOP Leaders ‘Ignoring Constitutional Right and Life Safety of Citizens’

Letter from the Tennessee Firearms Association; December 20, 2013:

Dear Tennessee Firearms Owner,

In case you missed it this week, Tennessee’s Republican leadership have indicated that Tennessee’s firearms owners are not a priority for them in 2014. In fact Beth Harwell, the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, apparently wants to keep you and your constitutional rights out in the cold again next year.

At a press conference this week she discussed her priorities for the 2014 legislative session and the right to keep and bear arms was not a priority for her or her fellow establishment henchmen. She doesn’t care about you or me, or our constitutionally protected right of self defense. This of course comes as no surprise as she has actively blocked firearms legislation in the past, and is no friend to the firearms owners in Tennessee.

How can it be in Tennessee that the ability to defend your life and your family is not a priority for Republican leadership?

Sadly, it is not hard to envision that Speaker Harwell may be taking many of her marching orders from Governor Haslam who was a member of the Mayors Against Guns coalition run by infamous gun-grabber Mayor Bloomberg of New York. One could easily conclude from the last three years that Governor Haslam has sent instructions down to Speaker Harwell and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey that they are not allowed to send any significant firearms legislation to his desk. This is the same Haslam who several years ago promissed the Tennessee Firearms Association that he would sign a law adopting Constitutional Carry in Tennessee but who, once governor, has never asked for that law to be put on his desk! We must ask whether Tennessee’s current Republican leadership is representing Tennesseans and their constitutional rights or are they more interested in Bloomberg’s mission and the interests of Federal Express and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce?

But we have all heard this before.

In the summer a few years ago, then Representative Debra Maggart, the number three leader in the Republican controlled Tennessee House of Representatives, stated to me that Republican leaders did not want to offer, publicly debate or even pass pro-gun legislation in election years because they think protecting the Second Amendment interests of the citizens would hurt their chances as Republicans to gain more power in the elections. Fortunately for us the voters in her district decided overwhelmingly to give her the pink slip when she asked to be re-elected in 2012. Of course much of that was due to your help in defending your rights and working with TFA’s Political Action Committee.

It is shameful that the Republican establishment leadership seems to be planning to continue ignoring the constitutional rights and life safety of citizens even after the grassroots spoke so loudly to throw Debra Maggart out of office.

The cold shoulder given by Establishment leadership like Bloomburg, Haslam, Ramsey and Harwell to ‘We The People’ is unacceptable. We expect it from Obama, Pelosi and Reid but not from “true” Republicans.

The fact of the matter is that the Tennessee Firearms Association and its members have different ideas about the 2014 legislative session. We will be fighting hard next year to expand the right to keep and bear arms in Tennessee. We are looking to grow our organization and we want you to grow with us. But in order to be successful we need your help.

As we prepare to hold our politicians accountable, as we prepare to stop bad legislation, as we prepare to go against the weak-knee Establishment leaders, and as we work to protect those legislators and candidates who do prioritize the Constitution ahead of mere partisanship, we need your help. We will be in the trenches, will you be there with us? We are committing substantial resources to mobilizing this battle like never before, will you be there with us?

You see, this is a war we can win but to win it we must have enough tools and resources. And the tools we need are not just your friendship, well wishes and hopes. With the Establishment relying on Bloomburg and Big Business money, the enemy has defined the battlefield to include massive financial resources. So I am forced by our opposition to ask for your most generous contribution of $25, $35, $75, or $100 today.

If you are willing to invest in our shared cause, please visit this page right now to contribute:

In liberty,

John Harris
Executive Director
Tennessee Firearms Association

Press Releases

TFA Criticizes Safe Commute Bill as a Trap for Employees

Press release from the Tennessee Firearms Association; February 13, 2013:

HB0118 is the House version of the Safe Commute law. It was presented by Rep. Faison in House Civil Subcommittee on 2/13. It passed out easily on a voice vote and without any debate from any Republican members of the committee – all of whom had been alerted to the omissions and holes in the bill in advance.

What will surprise some people is that the bill does not protect the employee’s job – it only removes some criminal penalties (there may still be possible criminal charges such as criminal trespass).

Essentially, the law is a Georgia style law because the employers will retain the ability to fire any employee with cause (that is, deny you unemployment benefits) if you are found to be or are even suspected to have a firearm in your car.

See 11 minutes into the video…

This bill is poorly written, it creates traps for employees.

It also explains why Federal Express, and the other very vocal opponents of the bill are not making the same kind of fuss that they have made the last 4 years to this bill. There is no loud opposition because they have been given the escape clause that they wanted.

We understand that the NRA is supporting this bill.

The bill next goes to the full committee – perhaps as early as next week.

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Harwell: Guns-in-Lots Not a Top Priority in ‘13

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she feels little pressure to settle a heated debate over the so-called guns-in-lots bill by next year.

The legislation died this spring after lawmakers could not agree on whether to allow gun owners to stow firearms in their vehicle at their place of work.

“We either can come to the table and work something out that satisfies both interests, or we can’t. And if we can’t, we’ll be back to where we were last session,” Harwell told TNReport Thursday.

“But I have high hopes we’ll be able to work something out,” she added.

The debate over the bill revealed divisions within the GOP-led Legislature and prompted the gun lobby to invest more than $100,000 into unseating a key Republican leader who worked against the bill.

“If we learned anything from last session, we learned that everyone needs to sit down at the table and work together,” said Harwell. “No one can bully. Neither side can push down their agenda at the cost of other agendas and other people’s interests,” she said.

Legislative leaders derailed the bill by sending it to a summer study committee to examine the policy, a maneuver that essentially kills legislation. That group never met over the summer, and Harwell says it won’t try to get together until at least after the November election.

Gun rights advocates have little faith that Republicans will tackle their key issues in good faith next year, said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

“I don’t think that they are looking at the Second Amendment organizations as partners to find solutions but instead are looking at them more as adversaries to appease, to shut us up and throw us a bone right now,” he said.

He said officials with the TFA and the National Firearms Association are already gearing up for the 2014 elections to pressure more incumbents out of office if they snub their noses at the groups’ Second Amendment agenda.

“If their perception is we don’t need to have another 2012 with all this bloodletting, that maybe the NRA and TFA will sit in the corner like we tell them to, that’s an unrealistic expectation to have,” he said.

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Maggart Releases Video; Critics Respond

Rep. Debra Maggart wants to set the record straight that she has a “100 percent” voting record on Second-Amendment rights legislation despite criticism that she worked behind the scenes to kill key guns bills.

Maggart, a high-ranking Republican leader who is in the middle of a heated election in Sumner County, took her message to the web in a video Monday saying the gun lobby has been trying to “bully” her and other lawmakers into passing bills that violate the property rights of business owners.

However, Maggart’s opponent in the GOP primary race, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Courtney Rogers, as well as the Tennessee Second Amendment organization that’s been so critical of Maggart, quickly shot back.

The only reason the incumbent lawmaker can claim she’s never voted against gun-rights legislation, they said, is that she and other House and Senate Republican leaders maneuvered to thwart floor debate on the so-called “Safe Commute” guns-in-parking-lots bill. They did that so they could avoid publicly taking a stand on the question of where an employer’s rights end and a worker’s begin, Maggart’s critics contend.

“Everybody who spends anytime in the Legislature knows that nothing happens that leadership doesn’t sanction, so that bill didn’t get out of committee,” said Jeff Hartline, campaign manager to Rogers who is challenging the House Republican Caucus leader  in the Aug. 2 primary election.

Blame for the legislation’s demise — and for Tennessee voters not getting an opportunity to see where their elected representatives stand on the matter — “has to be laid at (Maggart’s) feet,” Hartline said.

In the ad from the Maggart campaign, the Hendersonville Republican defends her role in working against the gun rights bills. Second Amendment advocates poured at least $75,000 through the end of June into the campaign to unseat her from her Sumner County district. “This attack against me is based on false information in an effort to bully your elected officials and trample your other constitutional rights,” Maggart said during the nearly two-minute video.

Maggart described the House GOP’s political decision to terminate the possibility of floor discussion on the guns-in-lots legislation as an act of “thoughtful governing.”

“It is my aim to protect all of your rights, not just the one that the Second Amendment rights group is promoting,” said Maggart.

In the video, Maggart noted that lawmakers agreed to study the legislation over the summer. However, there’s been no effort on Capitol Hill to schedule any sort of committee to further examine the bill, according to House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office.

Maggart is plainly “misrepresenting to the public what ‘summer study’ means,” said John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

“Telling people ‘we’re studying this’ is just lying to them,” said Harris, a prominent critic of the legislative GOP leadership’s handling of the issue. “She killed it and has no intention on bringing it back up.”

Hartline concurred: “If that bill had come to the House floor, it would have passed overwhelmingly. Everybody knows it. So the game was, it can’t make it to the floor.”

For their part, the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus actually took credit for driving the final nail in the guns-in-lots legislation’s coffin for the year. During a press conference just after the Legislature adjourned, minority-party caucus chairman Mike Turner said Democratic leaders “interceded” with the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect, and asked that he not try to bring the matter to the House floor, which was a possibility he’d left open right up until the very end of the session.

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Ramsey May Go His Own Way on Guns-in-Lots

As gun advocates continue dropping political bombs on legislative incumbents this election season, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he’s beginning to think legislative leaders and lawmakers may not be of “a mood” to expand gun laws next year.

At least, not with the help of gun rights groups.

Between the National Rifle Association launching an expensive political war with a top House Republican and the Tennessee Firearms Association firing criticism all over the party’s leadership, Republicans have lately felt themselves unfairly targeted. Ramsey said Thursday those attacks may sour leadership’s plans to consider allowing gun owners to keep their weapons locked in their car while at work, or cause leaders to sideline state and national gun groups from helping hammer out a bill.

“I don’t know what the mood of the General Assembly will be when we come back in, whether it will be a mood to pass a bill or whether it will be a mood that you don’t negotiate with people that threaten you. I don’t know where we’ll be,” Ramsey told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday, adding it’s “pretty obvious” guns groups are trying to bully lawmakers.

However, John Harris, Tennessee Firearms Association executive director and a vocal critic of GOP leadership, said actions that may appear like bullying to a politician could more appropriately be described as an effort to add accountability into the political mix.

Statehouse GOP leaders have adopted an attitude of “We’re the rulers, and we’re the ones who make the decisions, and you don’t tell us what to do,” said Harris.

“That’s not being a representative of the people who voted for you,” he said. “If their mentality is, ‘Play with us on our terms or we’re not going to deal with your issues,’ then our response as a grassroots organization is, ‘We’re going to go in your district and find someone who will beat you in the primary or beat you in the general election.'”

That’s exactly what’s being attempted by gun-rights advocates in Sumner County, where the National Rifle Association has poured more than $75,000 into an effort to unseat Rep. Debra Maggart, the House GOP Caucus leader they blame for holding up the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill. They are supporting challenger Courtney Rogers, a former Tea Party organizer and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, in the Aug. 2 GOP primary.

The guns-in-lots issue divided the Republican party this year as they had to choose between two key constituencies: Second Amendment advocates who want the tools to protect themselves and business leaders who say they have a right to ban guns from their property. Firearm advocates eventually agreed to compromise by narrowing the bill to only handgun permit holders, but Republicans stopped the bill just short of a House floor vote.

Ramsey contends the issue is “not about the Second Amendment,” but rather the right of employers to set workplace rules.

“The Second Amendment protects us from the government, from the government taking away our firearms,” said Ramsey. “This is a contract between two people. We’re talking about landowner and an employee.”

Guns-in-lots legislation supporters contend that the property-rights argument cuts both ways, given that an employee’s personal vehicle is involved and the employers are in essence demanding the authority to dictate what’s transported to and from work inside them. Harris said the real issue is essentially one of state-sanctioned discrimination against a certain class of otherwise law-abiding citizens exercising a constitutional right.

“If the employee owns the car, they have a right to have whatever they can legally transport in the car, and the employer shouldn’t have a say in there,” said Harris.

Ramsey, who has delighted in the support of gun-rights enthusiasts in the past, said he’s now grown weary of the TFA and NRA. The lieutenant governor — who like leaders in the House intervened to ensure no vote would be taken on the matter on the chamber floor — said he may try to hammer out a related piece of legislation next session with or without support from gun groups.

He said the bill could include employees putting a copy of their handgun carry permit on file with their employer. Ramsey said he would also like to include language that reiterates that handgun-carry permit holders must have taken a gun safety course, submitted to background checks and allowed the government to keep their fingerprints on file, he said.

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House Republicans Running Rally-Round-the-Incumbents Campaign

Tennessee Republicans are looking to tighten their grip on state government in the Nov. 6 general election by winning an even larger legislative majority than they’ve enjoyed the last two years.

But party leaders, particularly in the House, say a first priority is to ensure that members of their caucus survive challenges in the Aug. 2 primary.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart both say incumbents winning primaries is a prime concern. In McCormick’s words, incumbents deserve to be “rewarded on election day” for responsibly governing since they began dominating state politics two years ago.

“Certainly, we want our incumbents to win,” said the Chattanooga Republican. “We think everyone, or close to everyone, is going to win. And then we feel like we can pick some seats up this November as a result of our staying focused on the issues voters care about.”

Maggart sees it as her unwavering responsibility to ensure sitting lawmakers get their jobs back next year. And she faces her own tough re-election challenge against Courtney Rogers of Goodlettsville, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Supporting a candidate can mean everything from political donations from individual lawmakers or the well-funded House GOP Caucus, appearances from high-ranking lawmakers such as Speaker Beth Harwell and even coming out to knock on doors or work political fundraisers.

“My job is to bring the incumbents back,” Maggart told TNReport. “That’s our job — my job — as the caucus leader.”

But while GOP legislative leaders say they see it as their rightful role to protect the already-in crowd, some prominent outsiders who speak for constituencies typically seen as leaning Republican argue that in reality, principles ought to take precedence over the power of incumbency.

The automatic impulse to protect incumbents is rarely the answer — and more often likely part of the problem, argues Ben Cunningham, spokesman of Tennessee Tax Revolt and a founder of the Nashville Tea Party.

“People tend to stay in office far too long and have a sense of entitlement about being re-elected, and that tends to be reinforced by the reality,” Cunningham told TNReport this week.

He said anytime voters can get candidate variety and real ballot-booth choices, it is rarely a bad thing.

“I think that’s one thing most Tea Party people have in common — that we tend to be skeptical of the sense of entitlement that comes with long-term incumbency,” Cunningham said. “I simply don’t feel any loyalty to someone because they’re an incumbent.”

In the primary election this summer, 21 House Republican incumbents face off against GOP challengers who say they better represent the party’s values or are better suited for the job than the sitting state rep. Four GOP state senators have primary opponents.

“Part of the problem is that some incumbents have become addicted to power,” said John Harris, a lobbyist for the Tennessee Firearms Association, which lost a long-fought battle with Republicans this year over allowing gun owners to stow their weapon in their locked car at work. The TFA supports Maggart’s opponent, Rogers, as a result of GOP leaders stonewalling the bill instead of allowing debate and an up-or-down vote on the House floor, where Harris says the legislation would likely have won approval.

His squabble with Maggart over gun rights is “merely a symptom of a much deeper problem with the personal agenda of incumbents and the caucus within the General Assembly, primarily the House of Representatives, to raise funds to retain power and their offices rather than to demonstrate by their actions that they can be trusted with a return to office,” Harris said.

“The question citizens need answered is, Who controls such a system?” Harris said. “It is not the citizens. It is elected officials who are seeking re-election. It is the caucus. It is a product called ‘incumbent protection’ even from members of their own partisan parties.”

The state Republican Party wouldn’t comment specifically on how they balance supporting incumbents versus ensuring those elected sport solid Republican values. But it tipped its hat to the current GOP powers that be in the Legislature for lowering taxes and reducing spending.

“We work very hard to recruit solid, conservative candidates to run for office, and encourage voters to listen to all the candidates and what they stand for when selecting our party’s nominees,” said TNGOP Chris Devaney.