107th General Assembly’s Message to Constitutionalists

→ Posted on Jan 18, 2011 - 04:35 PM

We have received a lot of questions, expressions of concern and a fair amount of anger about reports that some in the 107th General Assembly (a/k/a the current Tennessee Legislature) have expressed the opinion, particularly to 2nd Amendment supporters and firearms owners, that “we” should not come and ask for any more changes in Tennessee’s gun laws for “2 or 3 years . . . .”  Although this 2 year legislative session is about to commence, this sentiment has already generated what appears to be a lot of dissatisfaction and even anger with those who now control the leadership in the 107th General Assembly.

Reportedly, 2010 marked the first time since the War of Northern Aggression (a/k/a the “Civil War”) when the Republican Party has been in clear control of the General Assembly and the office of Governor.  Note, I am not saying that this is the first time that conservatives have been in control since it is commonly accepted that there are those who are labeled Republicans who are not core, constitutional conservatives. 

Some would argue and it is likely true that core constitutional conservatives including gun owners, NRA members, TFA members, Eagle Forum, Tea Party members, and others who are members of one or more predominately core conservative value organizations are the instrumentalities that brought about the revolt and changes in 2010.  Certainly, it was not the mainstream Republican party since it has remained under the control of the same segment of individuals, such as Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Howard Baker, Bill Frist, etc., for quite some time.  Indeed, had it been the maintstream Republican party, then why 2010?  Why not 2000, 1996, 1994, 1988 or any other even numbered year since the War of Northern Aggression?  What changed in 2010 was the uprising of numerous core conservative grassroots organizations which had frankly had enough of the “2 Party” system and their respective leaderships.

Those who have come into State public office as a result of the 2010 elections will take oaths as a condition precedent to service.  These oaths, insofar as the 107th General Assembly is concerned, as mandated by Article X of the Tennessee Constitution which provides, in relevant part:

§ 1. Oath of office

Every person who shall be chosen or appointed to any office of trust or profit under this Constitution, or any law made in pursuance thereof, shall, before entering on the duties thereof, take an oath to support the Constitution of this State, and of the United States, and an oath of office.

§ 2. Oath of office; general assembly

Each member of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall before they proceed to business take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution of this State, and of the United States and also the following oath: I .......... do solemnly swear (or affirm) that as a member of this General Assembly, I will, in all appointments, vote without favor, affection, partiality, or prejudice; and that I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people, or consent to any act or thing, whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared by the Constitution of this State.

Thus, the members of the 107th General Assembly must take an oath (the integrity of which we will measure by their actions) which requires them to

- support the Constitution of Tennessee
- support the Constitution of the United States
- refuse to support any bill or resolution that would appear to be injurious to the people
- consent to any act or thing, whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge [the peoples’] rights and privileges

Support of the respective constitutions means that they will support laws that are constitutionally sound but perhaps of equal importance that they will actively work to repeal, amend or replace laws that are adverse to either constitution. 

In addition, the use of the term “consent” would carry with it the knowing tolerance of existing laws or regulations which would “have a tendency to lessen or abridge [the peoples’] rights and privileges.”  Thus, under this Oath, a legislator is affirming to the citizens of the State of Tennessee that they will act to cleanse and repeal statutes, rules and regulations which have the “tendency” to “lessen or abridge” the rights and privileges of the people as guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution and, by extension through the support clause, the united States Constitution.

Against this Oath, we can examine what is implied or intended by the phrase “wait 2 or 3 years . . . .” 

What does that phrase mean in the context of the Oath?  Are these legislators making the suggestion that our laws - those of interests to firearms owners, 2nd Amendment advocates, civil rights advocates and constitutional conservatives - are clearly within the framework of both constitutions at the present but that in “2 or 3 years” things will probably change for the worse and when they do the General Assembly will deal swiftly with them then?  No, that would clearly be a silly assertion for we know better.

Are they saying “wait 2 or 3 years” because we, as the General Assembly, have already bestowed significant attention to these issues in the past few years and we, the General Assembly, think that it would be better received by the news media and the general public if we spent our time and resources on other topics - any topics other than firearms or 2nd Amendment rights.  Bills such as these might be in need of preferential review:

—HB 0026 by Hardaway Firearms and Ammunition - As introduced, creates various gun show offenses, including prohibiting any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer from transferring a firearm to another person if any part of the transfer takes place at a gun show or within 1,000 feet of a gun show. - Amends TCA Title 39, Chapter 17.

—HB 0099 by Hardaway Animal Control - As introduced, requires all owners of dangerous, vicious, and wild animals to secure minimal liability insurance of $100,000 within 60 days from the date the owner knows or should reasonably know that the animal is a dangerous, vicious, or wild animal. - Amends TCA Title 39 and Title 44.

It is not real clear what some members of the 107th General Assembly intend when we hear the phrase “wait 2 or 3 years ....” so, let us examine that concept.

It would seem that the priority of legislation should in most instances place somewhere near the top those bills which address the very core foundations, protections, rights and principles that are central to the two (2) constitutions at issue.  Thus, topics which address the protections or infringements of rights and privileges guaranteed by the Bill of Rights should take priority.  Topics which address the limits and relationship between the State and the union government (10th and 14th Amendment issues) need priority.  Topics such as funding government and the proper scope of powers of State and local government need attention.  Topics such as the preservation and restoration of citizenship rights and privileges (including illegal immigration) may deserve priority.  Topics such as the access to public natural resources need attention.  Topics such as the swift, certain and adequate punishment of criminals (that is, the State’s police power) require attention. Truly, there are many issues which are properly before the General Assembly and, sadly, too many which are a waste of time and resources because of their apparent silliness if nothing else.

But the issue is what compels some members of the General Assembly in addressing specifically those issues which are guaranteed by Article I, Section 26 of the Tennessee Constitution and the 2nd Amendment to the united States Constitution (now by virtue of the 14th Amendment and the McDonald decision) to declare that these fundamental issues should “wait 2 or 3 years ....”  Are we being told that this category of rights that are expressly protected by both constitutions were not intended to be included when they took their Constitutional oaths of office?  Are we to accept that these constitutional protected rights are somehow less significant than whether individuals who own “dangerous” animals have $100,000 liability insurance? 

So, when it comes to the rights which are protected by the State and federal constitutions, how do those, who take an oath to uphold and protect the constitutions, to defend the consitutions and to be intolerant of any bill or current law or regulation which is injurious to the rights to protected justify tolerating presently unconstitutional laws for “2 or 3 years”?  Many do not because they do not, at the core, place the Oath and what it stands for as the compass of their public service or the litmus by which they test proposed legislation as well as existing statutes and regulations. Indeed, too many in public sevice even end up at public expense in prison because they disregard - or never even took seriously - the Oath.

Perhaps about the only answer they can give when they tell us to wait is perceive political expediance before an electoriate which is sadly ignorant of the Constitution, of civics and which increasingly care only about whether they get more from government than they are required to contribute to its function.  These public officials might also be concerned that some news reporter will not understand the existence or function of the Constitutions and thereby may malign them in the press for spending “too much” time on “guns” much as we have seen over the last 15 years.

Ultimately, the point is that the General Assembly, being fully elected by the people, should be the champion first and foremost of the duty to protect the constitutionally recognized and protected rights of the citizens.  Slapping those in the face who brought them to power should not be lightly accepted and if persistent should result in the clear and unequivocal removal from office as soon as the opportunity presents.

Some might say that those of week continence or conviction relative to constitutional rights should not be placed in a positions of public trust.  Others might saw that we, the citizens, choose our masters and if we choose fools - so be it.

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