Today I rise for the second time to ask the Senate to override the veto of legislation that is intended and does, in fact, provide good, law-abiding citizens the right and ability to protect themselves in establishments across the state.
Let me begin by saying that I respect the Governor of the State of Tennessee. I respect the office that he holds—the office that the people of Tennessee allows him to hold. I appreciate his good and accomplished service to the State of Tennessee, and his accomplishments are considerable. However, on this issue, in regards to Senate Bill 3012, I respectfully submit to this body that the Governor is wrong.
In his veto notice, the Governor says that Senate Bill 3012 lacks basic safeguards for public safety. What are the safeguards to which the Governor refers? It remains a mystery to all lawmakers. For two years I have asked the administration to work with us on the provisions of this bill. This session, I asked the Deputy Governor and the Director of Legislative Affairs to communicate with the bill’s sponsors and the committees on safeguards that the Governor referenced last year in his veto announcement that the Executive Branch would like to see contained within this bill. I directly asked the Governor, personally, to work with us, and communicate with us what he would like to see in this legislation. To date, I have had no communication whatsoever with the administration—none—about what provisions this bill should or should not have in the view of the Executive Branch.
If the Governor believes the legislation poses a threat to public safety, then I believe we could all agree that communication should have taken place between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch, as it has occurred on hundreds of other issues, many or most of those issues dealing with far less important matters than public safety. Since the only communication from the Executive Branch has been the veto notice that was disseminated to the public and to the media, and to each of us, I have taken the time to read it very carefully.
Frankly, the veto notice contains clichés and conclusions. But, I ask the members to look at it closely for what you do not see, because the veto notice is totally void of facts, data, statistics, information of any kind to substantiate the position of the Executive Branch. It shares no evidence that supports the decision to veto. For example, the veto notice states, “Guns and alcohol do not mix.”—a truism. I completely agree, as does every member of this Senate—which is why Senate Bill 3012 makes it a crime for a permit holder to consume a single drop of alcohol. And for enhanced consequences should a permit holder fall under the influence of alcohol.
If the Governor submits that a permit holder having dinner at a restaurant that serves alcohol results in more gun crime, then should he not share the evidence of that with the Senate and with the House? We’ve asked for such information. It has not been produced.
The veto notice implies that the bill lacks common sense. Ladies and gentlemen, the common sense argument is usually employed when the evidence is best ignored. And when the evidence is in favor, in support of Senate Bill 3012, is so compelling, I guess I could understand why critics would choose to ignore that evidence.
This General Assembly examined the evidence very carefully and very thoroughly, and based on the evidence—not emotion—the legislation has passed the House and the Senate with bi-partisan, super-majority votes last year and this year.
The veto letter attempts to fuel emotion and fear by describing the legislation as reckless and dangerous. Again there is no evidence to support such inflammatory descriptions, which I submit is intended to only to fuel opposition to the bill and to create fear within the public.
In 1997, the General Assembly passed a law requiring the issuance of a permit to any citizen who completes a training course; passes a practical and written test; submits an application under oath with a photograph and fingerprints, and then passes a criminal background check. Those who were in the legislature at that time can well remember the outcry from critics of the legislation. Critics of the legislation included many in the news media who characterized the legislation as the “Wild West Bill,” and predicted bloodshed in the street and great harm to public safety. They described that bill as reckless and lacking in common sense. Today we know that those critics were wrong.
With over 300,000 permits now issued, or processed, in the State of Tennessee, and that number increasing by approximately 5,000 a month, with a forty percent increase in Davidson County in the last two years, we have a clear record of safety and responsibility that is irrefutable—a record that goes back more than thirteen years. Tennessee’s good experience is not surprising because that experience is shared by millions of permit holders in approximately forty-five states in this country.
Now, those states extend from Vermont to Alaska; from Texas to Minnesota; to California; every state surrounding the State of Tennessee, but one, allows permit holders to carry in establishments that serve alcohol. And yet, the experience in those states has not been bad. The experience has been very positive. Law-abiding citizens have now proven that they can be trusted. That the problem is not law-abiding citizens with guns—the problems are criminals with guns. The problem is not the gun—it’s who has the gun.
Since 1997, Tennessee permit holders have been allowed to be armed in most places, such as streets, sidewalks, office buildings, grocery stores and markets and malls, and most restaurants. You can go to Shoney’s and Cracker Barrel, McDonalds, Burger King, or just your favorite diner out in the country. Permit holders have been dining with our constituents for many, many years. And I bet your, your response has been the same as mine. I have never had a complaint from a single citizen because a permit holder made them feel uncomfortable—not a one.
In 1980, only about six states were “shall issue” permit states. Today that number is about forty-five. As those permit laws were debated over the years in those various states, the media and critics and some criminologists claimed that good citizens could not be trusted and more crime would be the result from those laws. Over time, that debate among criminologists has now narrowed. I challenge the news media to show me differently.
The debate today is not whether the permit laws result in an increase in crime. The debate is whether it has no effect on crime, or, in fact, reduces crime. It’s between no effect and good effect. No one argues that the permit laws across the country have resulted in more crime, because as millions of permits have been issued, we have seen the crime rate in this country plummet. Sort of a remarkable idea isn’t it? You let law-abiding people defend themselves when they feel the need for that, and crime levels fall.
This legislation allows permit holders to lawfully enter establishments that serve alcohol, such as O’Charley’s or Ruby Tuesday’s, provided the owner has not posted the property and provided the permit holder not consume a single drop of alcohol. Again, lawmakers have looked at the evidence before voting on this legislation. The facts revealed in the forty or so states that have allowed permit holders to enter establishments that serve alcohol is clear. The laws in those states have not resulted in an increase in rates of violent crime. To assume that permit holders will suddenly become lawbreakers when they enter an establishment where alcohol is served not only defies common sense, but it defies clear evidence provided by the real-world experience of most states in this country over many, many years.
By the way, every state bordering Tennessee again, except North Carolina, allows their citizens with permits to enter establishments that serve alcohol. Florida, while not a bordering state, has allowed this for twenty-two years. The evidence is available—the experience is clear.
Critics have gone so far as to claim that this law will tarnish our economy. It will drive tourism away from the State of Tennessee. Well, where will it go, because most states have a law in place that is the same or similar to that which is being proposed in the State of Tennessee. Tennessee is not leading the way on this issue. Tennessee is one of the last states to follow.
No one is advocating that everyone should carry a gun. But I do advocate that every good, honest, law-abiding citizen should have the choice to do so. The right of self-defense is a right that transcends any constitution or any law. Can we call ourselves free if government attempts to arbitrarily dictate how, when, where or even if a citizen can defend themselves? Should not government have to at least establish a compelling reason to restrict fundamental rights? If not—if your answer to that question is no, then can you call it a right? So I ask, what evidence exists to justify governmental restriction on this issue? You will not find the answer to that in the veto message of the administration.
Every day as we watch the news and hear about terrible crimes—murders and rapes, assaults, home invasions—we sometimes forget about the victims and the victims’ families. In many neighborhoods, gangs and violent crimes are pervasive. They’re a part of neighborhood life. Remember, many good and honest citizens must live next to criminals and thugs and drug dealers and gangs. They’ve got to go to work in the dark, and they return home in the dark. And they’ve got to secure themselves behind barred windows and security doors. Why would we tolerate any law which makes it more difficult for good citizens to carry a defensive weapon if a good citizen believes it’s necessary for their defense or defense of family?
Crime can occur anywhere. Does it matter to critics of this legislation that a woman is two and a half times less likely to be injured or killed when confronted with violence if that woman is armed? Does it matter that an armed citizen is almost never harmed or killed when forced by a dire circumstance to display a firearm when confronted by a violent crime? The evidence shows that the criminal stops aggressing. Why would we keep laws in place that require good citizens to disarm—increasing their chances of becoming a victim?
Senate Bill 3012 is about defending a fundamental right under our state and federal constitutions—the citizen’s right to keep and bear arms. It’s about trust of law-abiding citizens. It’s about individual choice and responsibility. It’s about respecting good citizens’ right of self-defense. It’s about acknowledging that laws only apply to citizens who obey the laws—not criminals.
In spite of the excellent record of safety and responsibility established by good, honest citizens across this country and this state, the veto message of the Governor says to them, “I do not trust you, and I do not need evidence to support my position. I simply don’t trust you. I veto this because I can.” The Governor has asked the legislature to rethink the issue. I respectfully ask the Executive Branch to think the issue, and I ask for your support on Senate Bill 3012.