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.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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