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VOL. 39 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 27, 2015

Moms Demand Action seeks common-sense gun restrictions

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Kathleen Chandler Wright, third from left, at a May 2014 Moms Take the Hill event in Washington, D.C. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s founder, Shannon Watts, is on the far left.

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It’s another blood-pressure-raising Tennessee legislative session – at least for a politically active group of moms concerned about their children potentially being shot.

This spring, lawmakers who want to loosen gun restrictions will get a morale boost from a three-day National Rifle Association convention. It coincides with consideration of several gun-related bills, including one that would eliminate the need for a firearms permit altogether.

Kathleen Chandler Wright, emerging as the face of Tennessee’s Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter, is taking deep breaths and fighting on.

“The NRA convention is a three-day thing over a weekend in April,” she says. “The bills they are proposing could change our state laws and impact our day-to-day life long after the convention is gone.

“I do not think the NRA really represents most Tennesseans’ stance on safety and what they think are common-sense laws.”

She makes clear that the moms are not anti-gun.

There are untold numbers of gun owners among the nonprofit, nonpartisan group’s 46,000 Tennessee supporters. Chandler Wright’s own sister holds a concealed-carry permit.

But gun owners or not, all its members want stronger laws that close background check loopholes, limit how and where loaded guns are carried in public and keep illegal guns off the streets.

They promote gun safety at home, teaching parents how to keep curious hands off weapons. This is a constant problem, as the drumbeat of news reports show us, that leads to children shooting themselves, siblings or friends.

A massacre 1,000 miles away jolted Chandler Wright into action with the group. Mom to a baby daughter at the time, she couldn’t keep images from the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting out of her mind for even a few hours at a time.

She searched Facebook for other people who wanted to do something about it and found a brand new Moms Demand Action page. She joined.

By January, the group had more than 100 people demonstrating in Nashville’s Sevier Park.

Surely Sandy Hook would lead to stronger gun laws, Chandler Wright thought.

It didn’t. After a flurry of outrage and proposals, the gun lobby killed all attempts at reform. Everytown for Gun Safety, a national group that includes the Tennessee moms, keeps a list of every school shooting since. Take a look at everytown.org/article/schoolshootings.

So the moms are taking action with everything from small house parties to lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol and organizing larger rallies.

And yes, they'll have a demonstration related to the NRA convention, although they're keeping the details private.

For now, the focus is on three Tennessee bills that Chandler Wright notes are of concern. Here are the bill numbers and descriptions from the legislature’s website:

  • HB535/SB780 Permits a person who is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm to possess a firearm, openly or concealed, regardless of whether the person has a handgun permit.
  • HB320/SB628 Authorizes handgun carry permit holders to carry firearms in the same manner as off-duty law enforcement officers.
  • HB995/SB1171 Allows a person with a handgun carry permit to carry a firearm in any state, county, or municipal park or other recreation area; deletes provisions allowing local bodies to prohibit carrying in parks by resolution or ordinance.

Granted, some gun legislation is already dead or on life support. And Gov. Bill Haslam is on record as not supporting Guns in Parks, a moniker developed for the last bill in that list.

That’s a stance its sponsor, state Sen. John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), can’t understand. In an email to the Ledger, he says he didn’t think the current opt-out provision cities are using to keep guns out of parks would survive a constitutional challenge.

“Parks are big, wide-open spaces and do not have restricted access. They are simply not a secure place,” he writes. “Of all places that you need to be able to protect yourself, it is in a public park. There is no data showing that handgun carry permit holders are dangerous to children.

“Given these and other facts (as well as common sense), the right of self-defense is protected while in a public park, and there is no justification for allowing local governments to limit that right. The presence of children is simply a pretext to infringe upon the individual right to self-defense.”

Other sponsors asked to respond to the moms didn’t answer in time for our deadline.

The parks-aren’t-safe argument doesn’t work for Chandler Wright, who frequents Nashville city parks – where guns are currently banned – with her now 4-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son.

“This concept of more guns make us safer is completely wrong,” she says. “If you go with that, the U.S. should be the safest country in the world, because we have more guns than any nation.”

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