Over the years, I have definitely kept abreast of what my 2nd Amendment brethren have been doing in the legislature, both federally and statewide. My father has always been a firm believer in this particular constitutional amendment and has passed down that love to both myself and my children (his grandchildren).
One of the people that has come to the forefront on this issue in Tennessee is the often bombastic, sometimes hated, equally loved founder of the Tennessee Firearms Association, John I. Harris III, Esq. I was fortunate to catch up with him at the end of this year’s session to see how his legislative agenda fared, and in true John Harris form, he didn’t hold back.
You have been a passionate second amendment advocate for quite some time, what got you started on this journey?
As for Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA), a small group of interested parties came together in 1995 after TN adopted a formal, statewide permitting system in 1994. We realized quickly that although the state had adopted permitting in 1994 that the system was a minor modification to a criminal code that presumed citizens could not legally possess firearms and that the permit was a defense to a criminal charge. We realized that the legislature’s establishment of a civilian permit system created many questions or concerns because the legislature did not at the same time revisit many other statutes which directly impacted the issue of allowing citizens who had permits to carry firearms in a variety of circumstances and places. This mission has not been merely over the carrying of guns, it has been a mission to restore the understanding that the 2nd Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution guarantee that the people are the ultimately masters of government but that their status as masters necessarily involves the capacity to keep, bear and wear arms of such measure as would be necessary to displace enemies foreign and domestic, including the possibility of government degrading once against into tyranny from the role of stewardship.
Over the years, what have been your greatest successes?
With 20 years of work, TFA’s greatest successes have been developing and increasingly growing the grassroots movement to understand and demand that state and federal infringements on the rights recognized by both the 2nd Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution must be removed and that they involve more than “sporting arms” or even self-defense weapons. Even after 2 decades, those infringements remain well entrenched in Tennessee law and despite the election of a Republican super majority in 2010 we now know without doubt that those in control of the Republican super majority do not truly value the rights protected by the 2nd Amendment as fundamental rights but sadly seem to see these issues as mere matters for government’s licensure or worse as partisan issues to be manipulated for partisan power.
How did you fare this session?
TFA is growing rapidly. Sadly, one aspect of this growth is the increasing realization of conservatives and constitutionally principled citizens that the leadership of the Republican super majority have not by their actions evidenced that they truly intend to restore the rights recognized by the Constitutions. So, while TFA is growing in numbers, resources and capacity, that growth reflects the increasing awareness of Tennesseans that there is a discernable failure of the leadership of the Republican super majorities and the governor to move forward under their oaths of office to protect and restore the constitutionally recognized rights of the people.
What are your greatest obstacles to achieving your legislative goals?
Today, the misplaced priorities of the leadership of the Republican super majorities is a serious problem. It is also apparent that there are functional problems that appear to be intentionally maintained if not exploited by legislative leadership such as the “former” practices of ghost voting, secret meetings, caucus block votes, lack of open discussion and floor debates, lack of adequate time to consider and deliberate legislation both by legislators and the public, allowing bills to be killed by a vote comprised of fewer than the number of bill sponsors, no adequate means of recalling bills with significant numbers of sponsors directly to the floor, the toleration of fiscal note abuses from the administration, allowing legislators to falsify their voting records and other abusive uses of the committee system including abuses designed and allowed to purposefully disenfranchise the voters. These obstacles can be overcome as the people learn of the shenanigans and refuse to tolerate it but it’s a necessity that should not even exist if the constitutionally required oaths of office were ever present as an inviolate and guiding principle of official conduct.
How do you think the 2016 elections will affect second amendment issues?
As it has been since TFA started in 1995 and has been demonstrated more recently and aggressively in 2010, 2012 and 2014, 2nd Amendment and related core constitutional principles will have a material role in the elections as we work to see more legislators “Maggartized” by their constituents and replaced with others who will hopefully not be seduced and distracted by the available power, prestige and financial rewards of public office.
What is your best advice for young people wanting to get involved in the effort?
When our Founders declared independence from England to establish these states and this nation, they were studied in history, studied in government and willing to commit their time, their resources and in many instances their lives for the cause of liberty and freedom from tyranny. People today have inherited a once free state and nation although what they have inherited has slowly and increasingly been damaged, perhaps now mortally, again by the cancer of tyranny. If they desire to live in freedom, to live in a nation founded on a theory of a constitutional republic, to live in a state of personal responsibility, and if they want to pass on to their children the opportunity to live in the kind of state and nation that the Founders intended, they have to take seriously the sacrifices given by those who established this nation and accept the responsibilities that they have to protect and preserve it from those who have obtained the offices of government and abused those offices. They must accept that the fight to preserve liberty and freedom is not a spectator sport but it is a very real duty to this day in which they each bear the burden of direct and personal involvement.