Madness in Tennessee

Both sides are wrong in the blowup over guns in the Tennessee Legislature, but the Republicans are more wrong.

Let’s play a little YSDA tennis, smashing the ball of insanity over the net of reasonable behavior.

We start with yet another senseless school shooting, this one in Nashville where six students and administrators were gunned down a couple of weeks ago. And it would have been more but for the courage, quick action and training of Nashville police. So far this year 65 children have been killed in school shootings across the country. This is insanity.

In response to that, minority Democrats offered legislation to make it harder to get guns so that this kind of carnage might at least slow, if not stop. But, predictably, the Republicans killed the bill.

So, let’s smash the Republicans across the net first. It’s not too harsh to say that the party values an unsupported, absolutist, and may I say bat-shit crazy, view of Second Amendment rights over the lives of school children and their teachers.

But then a few Democrats overreacted. Protestors took over the House floor and three Democratic legislators used a bullhorn to join in the mayhem, leading them in chants like, “No action, no peace.” That’s a variation on a leftist favorite, “no justice, no peace.” I’ve always been repulsed by that phrase because it implies that violence is okay if it’s done in the cause of what activists define as “justice.”

Former Tennessee legislators Justin Jones and Justin Pearson will probably regain their seats soon, as they should.

What those legislators did was not okay, but now let’s smash the ball across the net to the other side. How did Republicans react to the three Dem’s over-reaction? You got it: by over-reacting yet again. The Republicans could have reprimanded the out-of-line legislators, but instead they kicked them out of the body altogether. That’s remarkable since, as a rule, there’s a high bar for revoking the choices of the voters. If their constituents think that what the legislators did was wrong, let them catch up with them at the next election. But, short of criminal behavior, a legislative body should enforce its rules without dismissing a duly elected legislator.

Not only was what the Republicans did wrong, but it was also stupid. They kicked out two Black legislators while not doing so for a white lawmaker who did pretty much the same stuff, opening themselves up for obvious charges of racism. And they’ve succeeded in making national celebrities out of the former legislators, who will probably be quickly voted back into office at the next opportunity. In fact, they might be reappointed even before then. Republicans will have accomplished nothing, except to make themselves look bad and help the Democrats raise a bunch of money off of the whole thing.

But now let’s lob the ball back across the net at the Democrats. In response to all this Pres. Joe Biden said that his party’s legislators were just engaging in “peaceful protest.” No, they weren’t. There are rules of decorum in legislative bodies for good reason — as Biden should know better than anyone. They help keep a lid on emotions and allow the people’s business to proceed in an orderly manner. A good way to evaluate the fairness of an argument is to turn the tables. What if California Democrats were about to pass climate legislation but fossil fuel industry workers showed up to take over the chamber and then some Republican legislators grabbed a bullhorn and joined in the disruption? That’d be okay? Or is boorish behavior only justified as peaceful protest when it’s done for a cause you agree with?

Biden missed a chance to be the adult in the room. He could have simply said that the Democratic legislators had behaved badly, but that the Republican majority had over-reacted. Everybody should just calm down and move on.

As I’ve written before in this space, I don’t think there’s much to do on gun control except to keep grinding. Keep introducing bills, even in places like Tennessee where they have no chance. Keep holding Republicans to account for their inaction and their extremism. And hope that at some point the GOP starts paying the price at the polls.

That’s the way our system will work. The politically-martyred Democrats made themselves poster children on the hard-left, but they probably hurt their cause with the broader public. Militant behavior never wins friends or influences people.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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