Harris: Constitutionally, New Legislation Restricting Firearms Must Demonstrate a Similar Law Existed in 1791

Jul 19, 2023

Second Amendment expert and Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association John Harris joined host Michael Patrick Leahy in-studio on Wednesday’s episode of The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy to discuss the high burden lawmakers must overcome in order for new gun control laws to pass constitutional muster, and the rumors at the state Capitol swirling around who is behind the push.


Michael Patrick Leahy: 6:34 a.m., broadcasting live from our studios on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee.

In studio, a very good friend, John Harris, the executive director of Tennessee Firearms Association.

John, the shortest amendment to the Constitution is the Second Amendment.

And it basically says “the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Now to me, that’s pretty clear, “shall not be infringed.”

Is there any lack of clarity in that to you?

John Harris: There is not. But you know, I’ve been doing it for 30 years, so I’ve got a learning curve ahead of a lot of legislators because it is such a complicated concept–

Michael Patrick Leahy:  “Shall not be infringed?”

John Harris: When you have a concept that is defined with a single period, it doesn’t leave a lot of ambiguity.

Michael Patrick Leahy:  No, it doesn’t.

John Harris: And yet, it took the U.S. Supreme Court to put down a mandate saying if the activity is within the broad scope of the Second Amendment, then the government, the state, the level, the local government – pick your poison in Tennessee because all three are guilty – has no authority, constitutionally, to regulate the activity unless that government can first demonstrate to the satisfaction of a court that a similar law existed in most of the states as of 1791.

Michael Patrick Leahy: And 1791 matters because in December of 1791, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified by the last state to put it into the Constitution. It was Rhode Island, December 15th, 1791.

John Harris: Exactly.

And the court’s point was if the nation’s 13 states at the time – if a plurality of them had a law, for example, you can’t have a gun when you’re in jail.

Then the implementation of the Second Amendment in the face of that law exempted out that category of restriction.

And that’s why the court says, unless you can identify the restrictions that were on the books, in most states, as of that time, the restriction is now unconstitutional.

Michael Patrick Leahy: And that was the decision that handed down – what, last year? – by the court.

John Harris: June 22nd of last year.

Michael Patrick Leahy: A little over a year.

John Harris: Written by Justice Thomas.

Michael Patrick Leahy: And it was a 6-3 decision?

John Harris: 6-3 decision.

Michael Patrick Leahy: And the decision’s called Bruin v what? New York State?

John Harris: It’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs Bruen. And TFA actually had an amicus brief in that case.

Michael Patrick Leahy: “Amicus” is “a friend of the court” filing.

John Harris: Correct.

Michael Patrick Leahy: And Bruen was the name of the state official in New York State. Who? In charge of what?

John Harris: Handgun Permitting.

Michael Patrick Leahy: Handgun permitting. Okay. That’s why it’s called the Bruen decision.

John Harris: It, it’s, yeah. A lot shorter than “New York State Rifle and Pistol Association” every time.

Michael Patrick Leahy: So it’s pretty clear that is the law of the land now.

John Harris: But you know, amazingly, before you leave that, yeah, there’s a state legislator, that is reportedly telling his peers that Bruen is irrelevant in Tennessee because it was a federal decision involving New York law.

Michael Patrick Leahy: Well, that’s just flat-out wrong.

John Harris: Not only is I wrong, but it is a gross violation of that legislator’s own oath of office. Because it’s a Supreme Court decision. That’s easy to read. It’s long, but it’s easy to read. And the holding is unequivocal

Michael Patrick Leahy: And it applies to the entire country, not just in New York state.

John Harris: That’s right. It applies to the entire country.

Michael Patrick Leahy: Well, look, we have a governor, Governor Bill Lee, who was in his second term, and basically the real Bill Lee is coming out, right now

John Harris: Church Pew.

Michael Patrick Leahy:  And look, Governor Lee, we would be delighted to have you come in-studio and talk about this.

But it’s very clear that Governor Bill Lee does not have the same understanding of the Second Amendment that the United States Supreme Court has.

John Harris: Oh, absolutely not.

Michael Patrick Leahy: He does not have that understanding.

And he – for some reason, which we don’t really understand – he thinks it’s sort of his right to jam this gun control bill – Red Flag Law – down the throats of Tennessee General Assembly with the assistance of a bunch of far-left groups, many of them out of state, and with the likely intimidation going on from violent Left-wing groups that will descend upon Nashville on August 21st and try to intimidate the Tennessee General Assembly.

He thinks that’s a good idea.

John Harris: Well, and it’s not just far left-wing groups, there’s some indicators, there’s some intimidation going on by the governor directed on his own party members because.

That’s political intimidation.

Michael Patrick Leahy: It’s political intimidation, not physical intimidation.

John Harris: Yeah, exactly.

Because what we’ve got is a governor who, instead of going to the bully pulpit and telling, explaining, and rationalizing with the citizens of the state why his agenda is constitutionally sound and permissible, and then the citizens telling their elected house and senate members, this is what we want.

He’s calling them into his private meetings in small groups, 1, 2, 3, and trying to leverage on them–

Michael Patrick Leahy: Trying to pick them off one at a time. Right?

John Harris: Absolutely.

Michael Patrick Leahy: With all sorts of, you know, veiled threats, et cetera.

Now here is the other part about this: there are a bunch of sort of leftist-leaning wealthy individuals who are contributing to the lobbying in favor of these gun control bills that the people of Tennessee don’t want.

One of them – we’ve got a lead story about this, and we’ll talk about some of these people here and what their motivations are – they don’t believe in the Bruen case; they don’t believe in the Second Amendment – and they’re trying to intimidate, with political lobbying, members of the Tennessee General Assembly to side with whatever it is that comes out.

And the rumors are now we’ve talked to State Senator Jack Johnson, who says, typically in a special session, there’s a bill already put together and is presented to the General Assembly and they just meet in a formality to approve it.

John Harris: Right. It’s choreographed.

Michael Patrick Leahy: Yes, it’s choreographed. Thank you.

Now Jack Johnson said he’s not seen anything to that effect, but there are rumors that in the House groups are working to put together such a bill, which would be basically a gun control, Red Flag Law, right?

John Harris: I have heard the very same types of statements that there are multiple bills being put together. And the reason is they don’t know what the scope of the governor’s proclamation is gonna be.

Michael Patrick Leahy: Legally, he’s issued press releases saying, “I intend to call a special session.” But there are very particular elements of the Constitution of how you do this.

He has to put a proclamation together, which says what the topic is for the special session. We anticipate that that’ll happen a couple days before the special session – not giving the opposition enough time to coalesce against it.

That’s kind of what the idea is that that is.

John Harris: And what TFA is hedging against – and we encourage the listeners to be prepared for – is just like when they went in with the special session to give a billion dollars of taxpayer money to Ford.

You know, that was a special session.

Michael Patrick Leahy: Let’s just step back for a moment.

Governor Lee, you got some bad ideas for your special sessions.

You know, Crom is not here to defend his point of view on this, but Crom and I occasionally have different views on these things.

And I have absolutely come out in opposition to – I think it was like $850 million bucks – that Tennessee taxpayers are giving to Ford Motor Company and this Korean electric battery manufacturer to support a particular failing technology.

This is for electric trucks. People aren’t buying them. The inventory is building up, and I think what we just did is we just gave $850 million.

Tennessee taxpayers just gave that money to build up the inventory of unsold electric vehicles there.

Very bad idea, but it came in a special session, and it was all wrapped in a bow.

They had the special session.

It was all kind of choreographed before, and against the opposition of wiser heads, it was passed.

John Harris: It just like giving the Titans a half a billion dollars.

Michael Patrick Leahy: Another bad idea.

John Harris: I mean, it’s sort of like the electric battery, you know? When’s the last time they won a Super Bowl?

Michael Patrick Leahy: And on that note – not a good return on your investment here.

Hey, when we come back, we’ll get into some more details of all the money going into lobby legislators to vote for whatever it is that comes out that’s gonna be an abridgment of the Second Amendment rights.

Back after this.

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “John Harris” by Tennessee Firearms Association, Inc. Background Photo “Tennessee General Assembly” by Tennessee General Assembly.