Democrats in the Tennessee statehouse aren’t really in a position to demand anything from their Republican counterparts at the moment. In the elections a couple of weeks ago, Republicans maintained their supermajority in the state House while losing only a single seat in the state Senate, leaving the GOP with a 27-6 majority. That keeps pro-2A lawmakers in complete control of both the legislature and the executive branch in the state, which means any gun control measures introduced by Democrats will likely remain bottled up or defeated in committee.
That’s not stopping the state’s Democrats from demanding some changes to the state’s gun laws, however, saying it’s time for Republicans to start compromising.
Tennessee senator Raumesh Akbari says she’s advocated for gun safety for years, even putting forth legislation that would make it an offense to leave an unsecured firearm in an unattended vehicle.
However, she says she’s received push back from fellow legislators.
“I really don’t think that the benefit that folks claim being able to have the gun in your car being an extension of the castle doctrine is outweighing the significant increase in the weapons that are being stolen,” Akbari said.
Akbari says a lot of the state’s budget goes towards funding law enforcement but the need to put more resources towards fighting crime could put stress on what is already going to be lean budget year.
“If we can do some things preemptively to decrease crime than we decrease the cost of law enforcement,” Akbari said.
Akbari says she is working with fellow lawmakers on a solution, but it’s going to take compromise to find middle ground on the issue.
“I think that should really be a bipartisan issue,” Akbari said. “At the end of the day, we all want to be safe. We all want to be sure that those who have weapons can have them legally and they’re not being stolen, and we can make some smart decisions.”
Akbari’s aiming her legislative fire in the wrong direction. If she wants to crack down on firearm thefts, the best thing to do is increase the penalty for possessing a stolen firearm, rather than making it a criminal offense to leave your firearm in an unlocked vehicle.
Last year, the state legislature approved a bill that guarantees 30 days in jail for those convicted of possessing a stolen firearm, but that’s still far too lenient for a minimum sentence. Those knowingly in possession of a stolen gun should be facing far more serious consequences, and enforcement of those laws should be a bigger priority for police and prosecutors across the state.
As for those gun owners who are leaving their guns in their cars, I think it’s unwise, but it shouldn’t be a criminal offense. Even at my rural home in a low-crime county in Virginia, I make sure that my car doors are locked at night and that any firearms and ammunition that may be stored inside aren’t visible to anyone peering in.
About 850 guns have been stolen from vehicles in the Memphis area this year, and lawmakers are right to look for ways to reduce those numbers. “Compromising” by only infringing a little on our right to keep and bear arms is a non-starter, however.
Instead of compromise, Akbari and other Democrats should be looking at collaboration instead, working with their Republican colleagues on ways to address violent crime and its causes that don’t involve criminalizing aspects of the right to keep and bear arms. If they’re willing to do that, they can be a part of the solution. If they insist on stripping rights away in the name of public safety, however, Tennessee Democrats are just going to be another part of the problem.