Blaine Walker has multiple guns.
The Williamson County conservative has a handgun permit. He hunts, primarily duck and goose. Walker doesn’t consider firearms evil.
He’s one of the millions of Americans that believe guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Millions of others disagree.
However, he also believes divisiveness on firearms issues has reached an inflection point. The time to find common ground is now.
“None of us are blind to what’s going on,” Walker said. “I wish we had the perfect answers.
“I think one of our biggest holdups is the fact that people on the right and the left, even if the gun owner was all for some type of reform, if they give an inch, they are so scared the other side of the aisle is going to … take away more than what really needs to happen.”
David Yamane, a Wake Forest University professor who has written multiple publications on gun culture, said conservatives push back against restrictive firearm laws for multiple reasons — starting with a desire for minimal government interference.
“So, if there are problems associated with gun ownership or gun carrying, they should be addressed as such without resorting to laws that restrict the behavior of those who have done nothing wrong,” Yamane said.
Walker’s belief will be tested in about three months when state lawmakers return to Nashville for a special session on potential gun reform legislation. The session was called by Gov. Bill Lee whose wife’s close friend was killed in late March in the Covenant School shooting.
Lee, a Republican, said there is broad agreement that action is needed, though his April proposal to pass an extreme risk protection order — an effort to keep firearms away from individuals who pose an immediate risk of harm to themselves or others — has so far failed to gain traction among Republican lawmakers.
Rare common ground
Curtis Sullivan, another Williamson County Republican who owns multiple firearms, agreed with Walker that politicians, on the state and national level, must meet in the middle.
“It’s a fallacy to think we are ever going to ban all guns,” Sullivan said. “The far left and far right, they keep getting fed. And people actually believe it.
“We have to find some common ground or these shootings are not going to stop.”
Yamane, whose published work includes “Concealed Carry Revolution: Liberalizing the Right to Bear Arms in America” and “Understanding and Misunderstanding American Gun Culture and Violence,” said current trends date back decades.
‘Negative feedback loop’ on gun issues
Gun control and gun rights movements have been stuck in a “negative feedback loop” since the late 1960s, Yamane said.
How did this “loop” start?
The passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 — spurred by the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — helped spark the gun rights movement, which further inspired gun control activists, Yamane said. A few years later, Handgun Control Inc. spearheaded handgun bans in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, which drove gun rights advocates and the National Rifle Association toward the modern conservative movement.
“So we find ourselves in a polarized partisan political system in which guns are a wedge issue,” Yamane said. “This facilitates passage of restrictive laws in more liberal states and less restrictive laws in conservative states.”
Still, some restrictions appear possible in Tennessee.
A recent poll conducted by Vanderbilt University from April 19-23 asked 1,000 registered voters across the state about gun control. The results: 75% support a red flag gun law; 82% support Lee’s executive order on gun background checks.
Eric Welch, a Franklin resident, gun owner and fourth-generation military veteran, understands why the poll shows large support for the governor’s plan.
“Governor Lee’s proposal for emergency protection order legislation is a common-sense solution focused on preventing mass shootings while respecting gun rights,” said Welch, who is also a Williamson County School Board member. “It’s no surprise that large majorities of Tennesseans across all demographics and political parties support this needed action.”
Conservative says permitless carry is ‘terrible’
Tennessee’s permitless carry law, which the Legislature passed two years ago and was further loosened following a federal lawsuit, allows for open and concealed carrying of handguns without a permit for people age 18 and up.
Walker, who has a permit, believes the law change is terrible.
“If you own a gun and you are serious about owning a gun and being safe with it and understanding that weapon and all the intricacies of it, you need to qualify for that, in my opinion,” Walker said. “I don’t think that’s impeding on anybody’s rights, considering you have to take a test to get a driver’s license.
“I don’t think that’s a good look.”
Walker took a cautiously optimistic stance on Lee’s proposal, though he wants more details. He’s likely supportive of a law that prevents a person, particularly someone who poses a risk, from being able to buy multiple weapons in a short period of time from multiple locations.
“To me that’s a flag,” Walker added. “Even for a gun owner, that’s odd.”
Sullivan, who attended the Rally for Common-sense Gun Laws in Franklin, an event organized by his son, Jared, said he’s not a liberal. He’s a Republican who admittedly feels like he has an arsenal of firearms.
But he said he also believes mass shootings must stop.
“This is not a Republican issue,” Sullivan said. “This is not a Democratic issue. This is an American issue.”
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