Former Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen (1951-1969) was such a studied and careful elocutionist that he was called “The Wizard of Ooze.” Known for such aphorisms as “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talk about real money” and “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times,” his most famous one was this: “When I feel the heat, I see the light.”
So it likely was for Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Back in 2009, when he was mayor of Knoxville, he opposed the right of citizens to carry weapons in the city’s parks. But as his political aspirations grew, he must have known he couldn’t take this anti-gun attitude with him to Nashville. And so, as momentum favoring the Second Amendment continued to grow, Haslam began to change his attitude toward guns and gun owners.
It came to a head last Friday when HB 995, a bill invalidating a previous law giving authority to local municipalities to restrict guns in parks owned by, operated by, or regulated by them, arrived on his desk, Haslam was quick to sign it into law, making it effective immediately.
Many were hoping the bill would have gotten to his desk about two weeks sooner, in time for the arrival of thousands of NRA members attending its national convention. But there were some wrinkles that had to be smoothed out, some deals that had to be cut, some compromises that had to be made.
Although the bill overrode the power of local cities, townships, and municipalities to restrict gun ownership in their parks, it kept the capitol grounds “gun free,” and signs announcing that guns weren’t allowed in parks were allowed to stay in place. In addition, anyone carrying within the “immediate vicinity” of a school-sponsored event in a park would be asked to leave.
Although Haslam admitted that those local governments would likely have some difficulty defining and enforcing the “immediate vicinity” rule because it wasn’t defined in the bill, the NRA was happy. Chris Cox, head of the NRA’s lobbying effort, the Institute for Legislative Affairs, explained:
Law-abiding Tennesseans have a fundamental right to protect themselves, whether in their homes or in parks. This [bill] will remove a patchwork of laws throughout the state that could have turned law-abiding citizens into unintentional criminals.
This isn’t how Kathleen Wright saw it. As a spokeswoman for the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action, she complained: