Bad Things…Worse Things…Strange Things
Many Around the Block readers know that I spend a fair amount of time in Knoxville, Tennessee. Why? Well, it’s not just because Knoxville is a pleasant, mid-size city set at the foot of the picturesque Smokey Mountains. It’s not because of its vibrant downtown scene centered around the main drag, Gay Street (I kid you not). And not because it is the home of the main campus of the University of Tennessee giving the city a hint of college-town sensibility (the great Peyton Manning went to UT – the street right by the football stadium is actually called “Peyton Manning Pass” – I guess if there’s a Dan Marino Blvd. in Miami, anything is possible. Although you’ve got to admit the “Pass” thing is clever in its way). No, it’s because Knoxville is where my oldest nephew lives with two of my great nieces and one great nephew. (Why they’re not called my grand nieces and nephews I really can’t say.)
Knoxville was in the news this week. And not in a good way. In a week in which the the trial of Derek Chauvin, the alleged murderer of George Floyd dragged on; in a week in which a Brooklyn Center, MN police officer shot and killed a black man, Daunte Wright, during a traffic stop; it was also a week where there was a deadly shooting at the Austin-East Magnet High School in the northeast section of Knoxville.
The news of the shooting at Austin-East made the national media, but generally buried deep inside the paper or as a :30 second mention on cable news.
Well first, it wasn’t about a cop shooting a black man. Not only was it a black-on-black shooting, you know the kind that happens in Chicago all the time and is the Republican go-to when gun control is mentioned, it was the fifth fatal shooting at this school in 2021. Not good. Not tolerable. And, I’m sure while caused by many factors, including socio-economic demographics, the availability of guns was one of the reasons.
But here’s the thing.
On April 8, a mere four days before the Austin-East shooting, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed the permit-less carry bill, also known as the constitutional carry bill, after the Tennessee House passed it last week. The law goes into effect on July 1.
Here’s a photo of Governor Lee, introducing the bill, surrounded by more than 40 members of the Tennessee General Assembly, supporting the “God-given” and constitutionally-protected Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans with a Constitutional Carry bill.
Obviously, there’s no cause and effect between this bill and the shooting; the law doesn’t go into effect until July. But think about the juxtaposition of the two events.
Just to be clear about what this law is about, take a look:
The legislation allows military members ages 18 to 20, and adults 20 and older to carry open or concealed handguns without a permit. Currently, gun owners have to take a training course before carrying a handgun.
According to News Channel 5 in Nashville, “While the bill was a priority this year for Gov. Lee, it has received criticism from numerous groups, including law enforcement over concerns it would increase crime. However, supporters claim they’re supporting 2nd Amendment rights.
Really? Second Amendment rights? Well yes. I guess the argument from our originalist Constitutional scholars (of which I’m sure there are many in the Tennessee legislature), goes something like this: “The Founders ain’t said nothing about them-there gun permits.”
As outrageous as this all is, the reason I’m really writing about it is that a curious thing happened to me as I was reading and thinking about the shooting, about the law and about my family living in what now has to be considered a state as loony, and perhaps more deadly, than my own state of Florida. (Yes…Bill Lee has now broken into the top five dumbest governors in America, a list that includes, Ron DeSantis, Brian Kemp, Greg Abbot and, sorry to say, Andrew Cuomo.)
Oh, yeah – the curious thing.
I have a real good friend; some might consider him one of my best friends. I’ve known this friend for over 50 years, so he’s certainly one of my oldest. Not only are we friends, our families are as well, as the many photos and movies of my daughters and his sons growing up together will attest to.
My friend and I are similar in many respects. We’re about the same age. We both grew up in Jewish middle class outer-borough families (he in Queens, I in Brooklyn) and we both eventually ended up in South Florida. Pre-Covid I saw my friend every week for Happy Hour and we went out to dinner as couples as often as we could. There’s this one thing however. On politics, I’m pretty far left; my friend is as far to the right as one can get. Despite the fact that we disagree on almost anything of import (except the excellent Happy Hour value the B.R. Cohn Silver Cabernet is), we always have a great time together.
One more thing. My friend is gun owner, has a concealed weapon permit and is generally “packing” whenever we go out. And no, that fact does not make me feel safer when we’re out together despite his statements to the contrary.
Knowing that my nephew and family lives in Tennessee, my friend called me on Monday right after the shooting in Knoxville to make sure everyone was OK. After assuring him that they were fine and that the incident was in an area far from where they lived, I mentioned my astonishment and anger that Tennessee had just passed the “Constitutional Carry Law” described above.
Guess what? My gun-toting, NRA card-carrying, Fox News-junkie best friend agreed with me. In fact, he said, “What are they crazy? No one who hasn’t been trained and received certification should have a gun. And open carry is nuts. Open carry gives these criminals the jump on cops who have to have their weapons secured on their belt.”
Wow, I told my friend, “We agree on something that has to do with gun control. I’m going to mark this date on my calendar.” Of course, he then went on to say that regarding all the cop homicides, that most of the people the cops killed were “criminals” so there is some justification for the police actions at these “traffic stops.”
Ah, well – B.R. Cohn Silver and the “Constitutional Carry Law.” Two out of three ain’t bad!