Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed John Harris, founder of the Tennessee Firearms Association, in-studio to weigh in on the Supreme Court’s decision to throw out a century-old law that would restrict gun ownership and require special licensing.
Leahy: We are joined in-studio by the original star panelist, Crom Carmichael, and by our good friend, co-author of the Guide to the Constitution Bill of Rights for Secondary School Students, along with me. You and I and Claudia Henneberry wrote that.
Harris: Several of us.
Leahy: And by the way, it is the textbook used in the National Constitution Bee. We’re going to have another National Constitution Bee in October in Brentwood.
This will be our 6th annual. And we’ve got some kids that have won those Constitution Bees that have done great things. One of them, Cooper Moran, actually writes for The Tennessee Star now, and is about to become a first-year law student at the University of Alabama.
Leahy: On a full ride. How about that?
Harris: That’s something.
Leahy: Another one, our very first winner of the national Constitution Bee, Noah Farley, our very first winner, is about to enroll as a first-year law student at Columbia Law School. How about that?
Leahy: And we have another, Jackson Carter, who is a student at the University of Alabama running for the school board in Maury County, and I think he’s unopposed.
And then Braden Farley who won this past year got a scholarship, a full ride to Grove City College. So we’ve helped a lot of kids.
And the winner gets a $10,000 educational scholarship on that. And thanks so much for writing on the Second Amendment. You wrote a couple of chapters.
Harris: Second amendment and the 14th.
Leahy: Now let’s go back to New York State. I don’t know, I say New York State was a wonderful place to grow up, and it’s a wonderful place to get out of. Upstate New York, beautiful in the summer, cold in the winter, very nice people.
But back in the ’70s, it sort of got overtaken by the unions, and got overtaken by left-wing ideology and left-wing politicians, and the huge influence of the state government to kind of put regulations on everybody.
So the Supreme Court basically threw out this almost century-old law that would restrict who could get a gun, you had to get a special license. What was the term you used, to show good cause?
Harris: It will show good cause. It was a compelling need beyond just I want one.
Leahy: So the Supreme Court makes this decision, then they pass another law. Then the left-wing governor, who, if you can believe this, Kathy Hochul, she’s worse than Andrew Cuomo. (Harris chuckles)
Carmichael: Hard to believe.
Leahy: Hard to believe Crom, that somebody could be worse than Andrew Cuomo. She’s worse. And so they passed this law now that if you want to get a gun in New York, you got to give them all your social media passwords.
Harris: Oh, they’ve gone nuts.
Leahy: That’s nuts!
Harris: If a lower court doesn’t read that brewing decision and strike that down immediately, they didn’t read very well, what [Justice] Thomas said.
Leahy: What’s going to happen on that?
Harris: There’ll be an injunction go down almost immediately, I think, to prohibit them from enforcing that.
Leahy: But that’s the attitude, isn’t it, among the authoritarian left? Is that what we have right now?
Harris: Well, to some extent, the authoritarian middle, across the nation. One thing that came up, the TFA filed an amicus brief.
Leahy: Tennessee Firearms Association. By the way, you founded that group when?
Harris: In 1995. So I’ve been doing this 28 years.
Leahy: 1995. Wow.
Harris: It’s a part-time volunteer gig that I support through my law office.
Leahy: Basically, it’s John Harris funding the defense of the Second Amendment. A lot of friends help out.
Leahy: We do very well.
Harris: Our PAC is up to about $130,000. For a grassroots PAC, that’s pretty strong. And we’ve got some really strong financial supporters that stand up.
Leahy: Oh, good. So it’s just not you paying for everything.
Harris: Oh, no, I mean, I’ll give you an example. Lee Beaman has been a cornerstone for us when we’ve needed to work the political realm.
Leahy: Let me just stop for a moment. We all know Lee. What a great guy.
Harris: No doubt.
Leahy: He’s very successful in business and has been such a great, stalwart conservative and supporter of conservative causes in the state of Tennessee, Crom for what, 40 years?
Carmichael: At least.
Leahy: At least. And steadfast. If you’re a conservative and even if you come under fire, Lee Beaman is there to back you.
Harris: And across the spectrum. It’s not just one issue.
Leahy: And just a great person. In fact, just will say that he was the, well, back to the launch of The Tennessee Star. There were two people that stepped up and wrote checks for the first quarter of advertising when we launched The Tennessee Starin February of 2017. One of them sitting right across the table from me right now, John Harris.
Harris: In my conference room.
Leahy: In your conference room. You wrote the first check and then one hour later, Lee Beaman wrote us a check for Beaman Automotive, and at the time they owned it. That’s how we got started. Crom.
Carmichael: Well, I didn’t know that.
Harris: Kickstarting in those days.
Leahy: It’s kickstarting, and you could do it back then. And interestingly enough, we talked about The Tennessee Star, and I think for five and a half years, I think it’s very clear that The Tennessee Star’snew site combined with the radio program here we do.
And now our new video newscast, our evening news update video, that we are the only conservative news outlet in the state. And I would say that probably most members of the Tennessee General Assembly read The Tennessee Star every day and listen to The Tennessee Star Report.
And we’ve been able to succeed because a couple of conservatives in the state, Lee Beaman and John Harris gave us our start. So thank you for that, John.
Harris: I’m glad to do it then and glad to come on and support still.
Leahy: Let’s talk a little bit more about the Supreme Court, and some of these other decisions that went on.
Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association to the newsmakers line to weigh in on the new gun control executive action by Joe Biden and speculates whether or no the Tennessee General Assembly will take action.
Leahy: Yesterday, President Biden made a couple of announcements. Here’s a story at The Tennessee Star. Biden announces executive actions on gun control, says changes won’t impact the Second Amendment. Really? On the newsmaker line right now is Tennessee Firearms Association President John Harris. Good morning, John.
Harris: Good morning.
Leahy: Well, President Biden on Thursday announced executive orders he’s signed on gun control, including ones to address the issue of homemade untraceable firearms known as ghost guns and strengthen so-called red flag laws that allow police or family members to ask a court to order the temporary removal of guns from a person they say, presents a danger to themselves and others. Biden says this won’t impact American rights to own guns under the Second Amendment. What say you John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association?
Harris: Well, Joe Biden’s got a long-standing history of deception and lying, and this is just more of it.
Leahy: When I read the Second Amendment, it says the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.
Harris: Correct. It is abundantly clear there are no qualifiers on that prohibition and yet government officials, certainly at the federal level, and sadly, at the state level and commonly at the local government levels completely ignore that. They want to put a provision at the tail end of it that says, unless we find it to be politically expedient or what we define as reasonable.
Leahy: So these red flag laws that allow police or family members to ask a court to order the temporary removal of guns from a person they claim as a danger to themselves or others, I can see that being easily abused. What do you think?
Harris: It will be. That kind of law exists in some states right now. It doesn’t exist in Tennessee, although a Senate Republican in Tennessee last year tried to push it forward, and this year there are other bills like that pending. I think they’re all filed by Democrats this year. And the sad part is those bills are clearly gun control measures and get guns off the street measures.
Tennessee and other states generally have existing statutes that have been on the books for a long time that allows someone that has a mental health issue that poses a risk of injury to themselves or others, it’s called an emergency committal in Tennessee, to be judicially evaluated by doctors for purposes of seeing if there is an immediate need to get this person some diagnosis and treatment. And they can lock them up for up to two weeks in a mental health facility for diagnostic and determinations.
What these red flag laws do, however, is under the guise of safety they allow anybody without a medical opinion or diagnosis to go to a judge or magistrate to get an order not to get the person off the street and not to get the person evaluated and not to get the person some help, but to just have the police go in and seize their guns and take those items out of the house, disarming the individual and other household members.
Leahy: What is the probability that that such a red flag law would be used against lawful gun owners?
Harris: It has been. And there is a clear history based on congressional Senate testimony of numerous examples where that has been used against lawful gun owners. It’s been weaponized in domestic matters. It’s been used in petty disputes, and it happens all too frequently that many of those, in fact, because they’re done Ex parte, which means you don’t have a chance to challenge it on the front end, is often reversed by a court when they actually have a contested, evidentiary hearing.
Leahy: Now, where does this go forward? I saw that the attorney general of West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey, says, if you do this, I’m going to file a lawsuit against you. Do you suggest that our attorney general in Tennessee, Herb Slatery, that he follow the lead of Morrissey and file lawsuits against these of what I think are unconstitutional executive orders on gun control?
Harris: Absolutely. What I would actually suggest is that Tennessee get an attorney general that leads on issues like this instead of letting other attorney generals in other states be the leader. And then our guy having to be speculated about as to whether or not he would follow suit and join as opposed to lead the battle.
Leahy: Well, that’s a tall order to get a new attorney general. It is a long process to go through that. But do you see Attorney General Slatery filing the lawsuit or not?
Harris: Right now, I see, potentially because of prior experiences with him that he might join in someone else’s lawsuit. I don’t see him filing it on his own or leading with Tennessee as having the best or the strongest arguments. I see him piling as a me-too kind of participant.
Leahy: How does he go about making those decisions and what influence do the average people and state legislators have on him?
Harris: They have a lot of ability and capacity to put public pressure on him. But the state AG, operating as an attorney, exercises generally independent discretion on whether to pursue a particular lawsuit or not. And so although the General Assembly and the public can demand it, they can pass legislation enabling it.
The decision as to whether or not to weigh in and actually do it is the AG. And in fact, there have been instances in the past where the General Assembly specifically wanted the AG to weigh in on issues such as this. The AG failed to do it, and the General Assembly went out particularly, I think when Mark Green was still in the General Assembly and hired a private law firm, the Thomas Moore Center, to represent the state of Tennessee when its own AG wouldn’t.
Leahy: Do you see something like that being a possibility now or needed now on the gun control issues?
Harris: I do think on gun control issues you may see that as an alternative because we have not seen since Slatery has been in office that he’s been particularly supportive or defensive of Second Amendment rights in Tennessee.
Leahy: The Tennessee General Assembly is only going to be in session for another three weeks. Is there a time for such action to be taken?
Harris: They could pass a resolution very quickly to urge that action be taken. But frankly, they’ve known it’s been coming since last fall when the Biden-Harris administration became the president-elect, so to speak. And yet they’ve done nothing during this legislative session of any significance to prepare for the inevitable. So they don’t get a pass on this as if it suddenly struck them out of the blue.
Leahy: Do you plan on contacting members of the Tennessee General Assembly to pass such a resolution?
Harris: We actually wrote legislation and submitted it to a number of legislators back as early as December on this issue to improve Tennessee’s laws and to put a provision in Tennessee law that would have required the Attorney General to go forward with protected Tennessee rights. And the legislators that we submitted it to didn’t even file it as a bill.
Leahy: Why is that?
Harris: Not sure. I don’t know if they were getting pressured down by the leadership. If they were getting opposition from the governor. I know there are two bills pending now, and we’ve offered that legislation as amendments on those bills. And those two bill sponsors have indicated that they’re not even planning to put the amendment on the bill.
Leahy: Do you think any current members of the Tennessee General Assembly would be open to the idea of a resolution requesting that the Attorney General file suit against President Biden’s executive orders?
Harris: Oh, absolutely. I think there are legislators like Bruce Griffey that you mentioned a little bit ago that have the spine that would stand up and demand that we at least do resolutions and proclamations and other types of encouragement for that action. I think also, as Speaker Sexton has said, there’s a whole lot of Republicans in that General Assembly that don’t have the willingness to defend our Second Amendment rights and that’s why we took a partial step on the governor’s bill rather than a full step towards constitutional.
Leahy: Last question. Will you be presenting a draft resolution for, I don’t know, Representative Griffey or others to consider introducing in the next couple of weeks?
Harris: We may do that but we have not drafted one at this point.
Leahy: Joining us in the studio, the man who wrote the first check to get The Tennessee Star started, John Harris! Welcome, John.
Harris: Good morning. Thank you.
Leahy: Do you remember that day I came into your offices and I said, John, I have this idea because we want to start a conservative news site? This was back in January of 2017.
Harris: It goes quite a ways back.
Leahy: Quite a ways back. I said, John, I have this vision. And the vision is to actually report the news that’s the honest reporting of the news from a conservative worldview. And I said I’m talking to a couple of advertisers. And the way that we do this is we’re going to have advertisers prepay for a quarter. Guess who stepped up? The very first guy to write a check to get it to launch us?
Harris: We did that right under the law office that day.
Leahy: We did. We did. I couldn’t believe it when you actually wrote the check. I said, Wow! We’re in business! And then we got four or five other advertisers to do the same thing. So a tip of the hat to the Tennessee Firearms Association and to John Harris’s law practice.
Harris: Thank you very much. Well, yeah. You’ve gone quite a way since then.
Leahy: We sure have. (Chuckles) No doubt mixing it up, telling the truth, whether the left likes it or not, who cares about them.
Harris: Or some on the right.
Leahy: John, now, Tennessee Firearms Association, tell us about the big bill. There are several versions of constitutional carry. That’s the big issue now, right?
Harris: That is the biggest issue that we’re seeing right now. And it’s actually an issue that we’ve had for probably two decades in Tennessee.
Leahy: I was going to say you’ve been trying to get this bill in the form that you want to be passed for about two decades. Persistence.
Harris: It has been.
Leahy: You are persistent.
Harris: We hear about incrementalism, and people don’t understand that we’ve been fighting this vital in Tennessee for over two decades. And actually, we’ve passed this bill in the past on the Senate side. Senator Beavers passed it on an overwhelming vote back in, I think 2014. But, you know, we’ve been perplexed by the fact that since 2010 we’ve had a Republican governor and a Republican supermajority, and yet we can’t even get the bill to the floor for a vote.
And frankly, I don’t think we would have it to the floor for a vote now if it had not been for Bill Lee coming out last February and saying it’s going to be my bill and I’m putting it on the floor. If it had not had the governor’s initiative behind it we would not be having the conversation we’ve had the last two years in Tennessee.
Leahy: So tell us, there are a couple of competing bills?
Harris: There are at least three competing bills.
Leahy: And one of the three is the governor’s bill.
Harris: One of the three is the governor’s bill. And the first thing I want to do before I discuss the bills is to really define what constitutional carry is.
Leahy: That would be good.
Harris: Yes. Because it’s a term that the news media has used a lot. They don’t understand it. But constitutional carry is a concept that says any person who can legally possess a firearm can carry that firearm. You don’t have to have a permit. You don’t have to have a state training requirement. You don’t have to have state licensure or an exam. If you can legally possess it, you can carry it. And not that it’s an exception to a criminal charge, there’s just no criminal charge attachable to it. So that is distinguished from another category of laws called permitless carry.
And permitless carry is a situation where you have a law that makes it illegal for a citizen to carry a firearm, which is what Tennessee has. And then you have exceptions or defenses to that law that carve out classes of people who could carry a weapon, notwithstanding the prohibition on doing so. So you’ve got these two competing concepts. Constitutional carry and permitless carry. Now Bill Lee came out and said he’s introducing constitutional carry last year. But he really didn’t when we saw the bill.
Leahy: Just for our listers, let me just reiterate what the Second Amendment actually says. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That’s it.
Harris: It’s that simple. And some people get hung up on that preparatory clause about the militia. But the operative clause, as Scalia called it, is the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Leahy: Yeah, there’s no qualification to that part of it. The previous clause and the militia we can talk about that a little bit when we get back. But the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. That’s pretty definitive. And that shall not be infringed.
Leahy: We’re talking about the various constitutional carry bills. There are three out there. One being called the governor’s bill. What’s the status of these three bills right now?
Harris: Okay, the best bill is probably the one filed by Representative Chris Todd, House Bill 1388. It simply deletes the statute that says it’s a crime to carry a firearm with the intent to go armed. It leaves provisions in that say, if you’re a convicted felon and you’ve got a gun, those criminal penalties still exist. But for the average, everyday citizen, it just deletes the statute.
Leahy: That is Representative Chris is from Jackson, right?
Leahy: He’s been in studio sitting in your very seat.
Harris: He is a great guy, and we’re really proud to have him up there and working with us. And so his bill just recently started moving.
Leahy: Where is that bill right now?
Harris: It is in the House Criminal Justice subcommittee.
Leahy: In a subcommittee. Is it anywhere in the Senate or is it going to go through the House first?
Harris: It is not even moving in the Senate. We expect the Senate under McNally’s direction is going to send all the bills except for the governors to the general sub, which is an easy way of saying the McNally is going to kill the bills.
Leahy: Got it. Okay, so that Chris Todd bill going through the House doesn’t have a Senate sponsor.
Harris: It does have a Senate sponsor. Janice Bowling.
Leahy: But it’s not moving.
Harris: It’s not moving. And that’s largely McNally’s directive.
Leahy: Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally.
Harris: And I think what will happen with even on the House side is that it’s got a little over a two million dollar fiscal note and they’ll put it behind the budget, which means it’s effectively dead.
Leahy: Okay, so that bill, although you think it’s the best, does it have good prospects of passing it?
Harris: It doesn’t. And part of the reason I say that is the second-best bill is House Bill 18 by Representative Bruce Griffey.
Leahy: Now, the second-best bill, is that the governor’s bill?
Harris: No, it’s not.
Leahy: Okay, so we have three bills. The first best bill is not the governor’s bill.
Harris: No, it’s not.
Leahy: The second best bill is not the governor’s bill.
Harris: No, it’s not.
Leahy: I’m guessing then the third-best bill…
Harris: Is the governor’s bill.
Leahy: Also known as the worst of the three.
Harris: The worst of the three. (Leahy chuckles) And I will say this in all, candor. If it passes as to this constitutional permitless carry concept, it is slightly better than the situation we have now.
Leahy: Okay, the worst of the three bills is slightly better. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement John. (Laughs)
Harris: No, it’s not, because there’s so much negative baggage to the bill. One thing, for example, is it’s not even really a permitless carry bill.
Leahy: Before we get to the governor’s bill, just give us a synopsis of that second-best bill by Representative Griffey.
Harris: Griffey’s bill creates an exception to a charge which says anyone who can legally possess a firearm if they remembered our first segment, can carry it. Straight up constitutional carry language. And it also equates someone carrying pursuant to that provision to having an enhanced permit, which is a critical nuance, because we have so many laws on the books right now that say, for example, it’s a crime to carry in a public park unless you have a permit. And so with Griffey’s bill equating permitless carry with having the permit, it would open up parks, greenways, employee safe commute, a park in certain places. It would open up all of that which the governor’s built omits and therefore leaves all of those activities as punishable crimes.
Leahy: And the Griffey bill is probably it’s not going to pass either?
Harris: It came out of the criminal practice.
Leahy: It did come out of a committee?
Harris: It went to House finance, and they put it behind the budget which kills.
Leahy: Okay, so that’s killed. So then let’s go to the shall we say the third best or the worst of the three? The governor’s bill.
Harris: The governor’s bill.
Leahy: Let’s talk about that bill.
Harris: The governor’s bill is the least desirable, although, but as I said, it is a step forward.
Leahy: So you’re going to say good things about the governor for putting it on the agenda?
Harris: He raised the attention and the rhetoric. Although we’re not sure it’s because he really supports the issue upon what he said as a candidate for governor as much as it’s because he’s done so much political damage to himself that he needs some political capital.
Leahy: In other areas.
Harris: Penny Schwinn for example.
Leahy: Okay. I hear you. That’s, by the way, our Commissioner of Education, perhaps the least popular member of the cabinet. But that’s another story.
Harris: That’s another story. But he needs capital.
Leahy: Okay, so he’s got this bill, the worst of the three.
Harris: The worst of the three. Where is it? And why is it the worst of the three?
Leahy: It’s fully passed the Senate?
Leahy: Thank you, Lieutenant Governor McNally.
Harris: He ramrodded it through. The easiest to do with the least desirable.
Leahy: Where’s is it in the House?
Harris: It has come all the way through the House finance, and we expect it to be on the House floor next week.
Leahy: And I guess it’s likely to pass.
Harris: Oh, yeah. It has been given all the royal blessings from the man standing behind the green curtain, (Leahy laughs) and it’s going to apparently sail through without any real critical observation or debate.
Leahy: Okay, so let’s have that discussion. Is there any opportunity for changing the content of the bill now?
Harris: Yes. If you recall, a few years ago with the hall income tax bill, it came through a sort of an undesirable format. It got to the House floor. And about the last day of session at the time, Representative Pody put an amendment on the floor that overwhelmingly changed the bill to a much better bill.
Leahy: And that passed.
Harris: That passed.
Leahy: That passed in that past, and it was accepted by the Senate and signed into law.
Harris: A much better bill, all at the result of one person at the last minute.
Leahy: Do we have any opportunity or any expectation that a similar improvement could happen before this bill becomes law?
Harris: We are talking with House members. We got a lot of support for the idea of offering those amendments on the floor. And the critical part is getting people to call their House members and say we want it amended on the floor.
Leahy: Ah ha! So that’s our point of action. I think there’s a commercial here on our radio station that has that phone number.
Harris: Just general advice.
Leahy: Okay. So tell us what is wrong with the governor’s constitutional carry bill.
Harris: Okay. The first step is constitutionally it ought to be any person who can legally possess. His bill says you got to be 21 and up, or you have to be the age 18 to 20 and either in the military or honorably discharged from the military. Right off the bat, we’ve got an equal protection problem.
Leahy: When you say equal protection, what you’re saying then is, if somebody who’s 18, 19, or 20 years old, it’s not treated in the same way by this bill as somebody who’s over 21?
Harris: Over 21 or even someone in the same age bracket that just happens to be in the military instead of working for a police department. So it’s creating an unconstitutional distinction between adults with respect to a constitutional right. The second problem with the governor’s bill is it is a handgun-only bill as opposed to any firearm. And of the states, there are 18 states that have adopted this kind of law already. Eight of them have any firearm kind of language, which seems to be the trend. I mean, they’re going to say if you can carry a handgun as Virginia does, there’s no big difference.
Leahy: Do you recall any of the other states? Virginia and anybody else?
Harris: There are several that I’ve seen on the news reports would be gathering capitals in different states. Virginia is the one I remember because I was tens of thousands of people standing around.
Leahy: And they haven’t ruined that law yet in Virginia. But they could at any moment.
Harris: And the odd part is, Tennessee passed a law in 2014 called Vehicle Transport, which does allow any legal possessor to carry any firearm in the vehicle loaded or unloaded. It doesn’t matter. So the governor’s stepping away from something that we’ve had for seven years with respect to vehicles. That’s the second big distinction.
Leahy: There are more.
Harris: There are more. The third distinction is it has this really odd clause in it that says you have to be in a place where you’re legally entitled to be. And we didn’t really know what that meant.
Leahy: What I’m trying to figure out is what does that mean, John?
Harris: Well, we got a little bit of a hint from something that was said by the bill’s sponsor, Representative William Lamberth in the House Finance Committee.
Leahy: Representative William Lamberth is the majority leader.
Harris: He is.
Leahy: He’s second in command. And the job of the majority leader is to carry the governor’s agenda.
Leahy: So he’s doing his job.
Harris: He’s doing his job. But he made this odd comment in response to a question he was asked about if this would impact, for example, posted properties? And his response…
Leahy: What’s a posted property?
Harris: Under the current law, a property let’s say a movie theater or a restaurant can put a sign up that says no guns allowed. And if you violate that standard.
Leahy: Or a Toby Keith restaurant. (Laughs) Thank you, Toby.
Harris: If you violate that standard it’s a chargeable misdemeanor and it’s a class B misdemeanor in Tennessee. Something that Representative Lamberth said in the finance was this may result in a second chargeable offense if there is a violation.