Tennessee Spotlight asks – “Is Tennessee ‘Chopped Liver’ with the NRA?”

Two sides to the NRA

The Tennessee Spotlight released its newsletter commentary this week and asked a question that may be of interest to Tennessee’s gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters.  The question presented in the Spotlight is “But what role has the NRA, the nation’s oldest 2nd Amendment advocacy group, played in assisting liberty-loving Tennesseans in reclaiming this right granted by our Founding Documents?”

In looking at this question, the Spotlight commentary noted:

The NRA is also on the record as supporting a national reciprocity bill to allow concealed carry in all fifty states. Such would force states like New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Connecticut to abide by federal constitutional mandates rather than unconstitutionally restrict their citizens’ ability to keep and bear arms. We applaud them for these efforts.

But what about the NRA’s support of Constitutional Carry? Here’s what we found.

In a recent push to oppose a bad gun bill in Utah, the NRA declared “Make no mistake, the NRA strongly supports permitless/constitutional carry.”

Then, the commentary looked in detail at the NRA’s actions in Tennessee particularly since the Republicans took absolute control of the Legislature and the Governor’s office”

What did we find when we did a search for “Constitutional Carry, NRA, Tennessee”? We found this March 4, 2016 article from the NRA-ILA Newsletter informing its Tennessee Members to call the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and “ask them politely” to support SB1483 being carried by Senator Mark Green and to call the members of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and “ask them politely” to support HB1748 being carried by Rep. Judd Matheny. Unlike the other links above, we could find not one assertion by the NRA that it supports CC in Tennessee and expects the elected officials it endorses and gives money to to support it.

What we did see in 2017 was the NRA Lobbyist pushing for “window-dressing” gun bills that would allow incumbents to go home and brag about their fealty to the 2nd Amendment.

During the 2014 primary season, the TFA begged the NRA to support Steve Gawrys in the TN-61 primary against the incumbent Charles Sargent because of Sargent’s recent history of killing off gun bills in his House Finance Committee. The best TFA could muster was getting Sargent’s “rating” lowered to a C-. Gawrys lost by less than 260 votes after the NRA sent out its obligatory card endorsing Sargent for re-election.

During the 2016 primary season, TFA activists approached the NRA State Lobbyist, Erin Luper, about withdrawing support from several incumbents and throwing their support behind their primary opponents, all solid supporters of Constitutional Carry. High on this list was Rep. Jon Lundberg, then a candidate for outgoing Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s Senate Seat, who had blocked just about every gun bill in his role as a member of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. Lundberg had even gone so far as to vote “Nay” on a gun bill and then ask to have his vote recorded as “Present, Not Voting” allowing the bill to fail, but attempting to hide his subcommittee vote from the folks back home.

Luper kindly refused, offering that the NRA had to stick with “people who could win” whom the NRA would need to move gun legislation in coming sessions. Pray tell, what gun legislation was the NRA hoping to “move”?

This was a vast departure from their 2012 position. In the 2012 TN-45 Republican House Primary, they went “all in” against then-Republican House Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, who had publicly humiliated then-Lobbyist Darren LaSorte. LaSorte was working to advance gun bills through the Tennessee House, but Maggart was blocking his efforts with the GOP Caucus because “we don’t want our people to have to vote on gun bills during an election year”.

The NRA rightly came out “yuuuuuuge” (Do you remember those billboards?) for an unknown Air Force veteran and Sumner County Tea Party President Courtney Rogers in that primary, delivering a crushing 16-point defeat to Maggart. I was a part of that campaign and there was no polling in April suggesting Rogers had a chance. This “all in” effort or an effort of any magnitude has yet to be repeated in any Tennessee legislative race while Constitutional Carry, Open Carry, and Elimination of Gun Free Zones legislative efforts have languished without NRA support.

Some CC advocates in Arizona have asserted that the NRA actually moved to block their CC legislation, which was later passed and signed by Governor Jan Brewer, afterward claiming their positive role in its passage. This same article detailed problems in Tennessee with lack of NRA support for Constitutional Carry.

While the Yankees in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire get NRA support for Constitutional Carry, while our neighbors in South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri have the NRA in their State Capitols pushing lawmakers to pass Constitutional Carry, while the NRA works overtime in South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, and while Wisconsin lawmakers move toward full CC adoption, the NRA in Tennessee endorses and and gives money to lawmakers who openly oppose these same bills. What’s more disturbing is their absence in the Capitol actively working Members to pass CC.

So, what are we to make of this? Does the NRA hate Tennessee?

The Spotlight’s commentary raises an interesting question …  what explains the apparent differences in policy that the NRAILA takes in one state versus other states?  Why is the battle more determined in some states than others?  Why is it with a governor who promised to sign constitutional carry in 2010 (www.tennesseefirearms.com/haslam) does it appear that after 7 years of his administration that he has not been fully held accountable by all who advocate for the full restoration of the 2nd Amendment?

Perhaps the answer lies not necessarily with the NRAILA but with the “swamp” in which it swims in Tennessee.  If the issue is the “swamp”, the the the Spotlight’s facts are still relevant because it raises the question, yet, of why this result in Tennessee?

On the “swamp”, consider that on Tuesday of this week the Tennessee Star reported on an astounding revelation from former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (who is now be suspected of potentially violating the state’s lobbying ban) of suspected abuses of power from the administration or potentially legislative leadership when individual legislators (and presumably lobbyists) resist or push back too hard on what leadership wants.  Ron Ramsey made clear that there are real and significant “consequences” to those who resist or stand against the administration and/or legislative leadership.   The Tennessee Star reported

During a press conference in Blountville, former Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said that, “[w]hen I was in the legislature, let me assure you, actions had consequences,” as the reason why none of the new transportation funding is headed to Washington County. Ramsey summed it up this way:

“There was no doubt, in the end, that there was some punishment levied against some House members on funding. Not against the Senate members, but against the House members.”

For example, Ramsey said the Senate included funding for the Sullivan County Agriculture Center and East Tennessee State University, after which the House stripped away some of the funding.

Rep. Timothy Hill, whose district covers Johnson County and parts of Carter and Sullivan Counties, voted against the gas tax.

You can read the full Tennessee Spotlight commentary on the Tennessee Spotlight’s archive and you can also subscribe to receive the conservative commentaries directly.

The Tennessee Firearms Association would prefer to battle for constitutional carry and other 2nd Amendment issues alongside the NRA, Gun Owners of America, the Second Amendment Foundation, NAGR and other advocacy groups.  However, as between the NRA and TFA, the TFA is also willing to stand alone in the fight if that is the course of restoration for the 2nd Amendment.


John Harris
Executive Director
Tennessee Firearms Association

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