From time to time, Shelby County Commissioners hear the siren political call of national issues and movements.
The stronger the lure for some on a commission with deep partisan divisions, the more likely the outcome will be anything but unanimous.
That is what happened this week when the commission debated and then voted down a resolution Monday, May 6, that would have backed the idea of state legislators and county sheriffs across the state “nullifying” federal gun control laws they consider unconstitutional.
Commissioner Terry Roland said he sponsored the “Second Amendment Preservation Resolution” because his constituents wanted it. And he insisted it was a resolution to simply state the commission’s general support of the right to bear arms.
“I’m not going to change any minds here,” Roland added as the debate continued.
Commissioner Steve Mulroy, a law professor at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, questioned the wording in the resolution. He specifically pointed to the part that called on the Tennessee legislature to “reject and nullify the enforcement of any federal acts, laws, executive orders, rules or regulations in violation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee.”
He termed the resolution “an extreme right wing position.”
“We’re setting up a scarecrow to knock him down,” Mulroy added.
During the moments when the commission’s debate was focused on the specific concerns by those on both sides of the political divide, partisans on the other side acknowledged they made points worth considering.
But with the admissions, the discussion then veered off into gun control in general.
“There was not any malice,” Roland said of his resolution as he talked about supporting some measures that deal with keeping guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill.
“I think this thing is going to be blown out of proportion. They are going to say we don’t need it,” he added of opponents of the measure as he talked of the recent bombings in Boston.
“I wonder how many folks probably wished they had guns that probably didn’t have guns,” Roland said. “I’m going to be honest with you. If I come to Memphis, Tenn., I’m packing heat … and I think everybody should have that right. And that’s what I’m trying to do today is defend that right.”
Commissioner Walter Bailey said there is no threat to the Second Amendment rights and talked of political motives.
“It seems to me the whole theme here is an effort to take a shot – a cheap shot—at what the president has done in terms of trying to bring about some sensible reforms,” Bailey added. “It makes a mockery of us here in Shelby County. It makes us look stupid.”
Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, however, said reforms on the national level that add more regulations and laws are missing the point.
His vote for the resolution was about that broader point.
“These laws, they really only affect the people who are going to abide by them,” Bunker said. “If you have more law abiding citizens carrying guns, you are less likely to have criminals wearing them.”
He asked Mulroy if there was any amendment to the resolution that would make it something Mulroy could vote for.
Mulroy said he didn’t see a need for the commission to weigh in on the topic.
“There’s no crisis,” he told Bunker.
As Mulroy pointed to the supremacy clause and U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the issue of gun control, commissioner Heidi Shafer said the court is one “co-equal” branch of government with the legislative and executive branches.
“I didn’t vote for any Supreme Court,” she said. “They are not our dictator. … They interpret the law. They are one co-equal branch.”
Meanwhile, commission chairman Mike Ritz stuck to moderating the debate that dominated a short agenda and voted “no” with the majority on the body.
Ritz said last week he doesn’t care for such resolutions in general because he sees little to be gained by them whatever their political bent.
Roland and others favoring the resolution however say the commission weighs in each year on bills in the Tennessee legislature.
Roland’s resolution failed on a 5-6 vote of the commission, a vote Roland said before the meeting he expected might not go his way.