Tennessee Lawmakers Reject Bill Restoring Voting Rights to Felons While Denying 2A Rights

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File

someA Tennessee bill that would have allowed convicted felons to have their voting rights restored, even while keeping them from exercising their Second Amendment rights, has been set aside for the year by a legislative committee. 


The bill, which had both a Republican and Democrat co-sponsor, was sent to a study committee for further review despite the objections of Rep. Antonio Parkinson and others, who say the state is making felons pay for their crimes long after they've been released from prison. 

“We’re not giving people the chance to get back to being a productive citizen, getting back to living life,” Parkinson told The Associated Press after the vote. "We want them to pay for the rest of their lives for a mistake that they made, and it’s sad, and sickening.”

Some Republicans argued they prefer to study citizenship rights issues in state law more broadly this summer and propose various changes next year.

“They’ve committed the felony, there’s a punishment for that, but once it’s over, there’s a road back to redemption," said Republican House Majority Leader William Lamberth. "We’ve allowed that road to become too cumbersome and twisted, instead of straight and easy. I'm all for rewriting the code. But I don't think just this bill is the way to do it.”

I don't either, to be honest. I have no issue with restoring voting rights when those convicted of a felony have served their time. What I don't like is the piecemeal restoration of rights. The Second Amendment is not a second-class right, as the Supreme Court has said, but this bill treats the right to keep and bear arms differently from the right to vote or hold office.


The proposal sought to undo restrictions established in July. At the time, election officials interpreted a state Supreme Court ruling as requiring people convicted of felonies to get their full citizenship rights restored by a judge, or show they were pardoned, before they could apply for reinstated voting rights. In January, the elections office confirmed that voting rights restoration would also require getting back gun rights. 

The bill would have allowed a judge to restore someone’s right to vote separate from other rights, including those regarding guns, serving on a jury, holding public office and having certain fiduciary powers. The other rights would have similarly been eligible to be restored individually, except for gun rights, which would have required restoring the other rights too, in alignment with current legal standards.

Since the July voting rights restoration policy change, officials have approved 12 applications to restore voting rights and denied 135, according to the secretary of state’s office. In the seven months before, about 200 people were approved and 120 denied.

Are officials approving fewer requests because the right to keep and bear arms is being restored along with their voting rights? It sure looks that way. But that doesn't mean that the answer is to separate the restoration of voting rights from other inherent civil rights like our right to keep and bear arms. Taking that approach inherently places the Second Amendment in a second-class status, and lawmakers made the right call in shunting the legislation off to a study committee. 


Tennessee's rights restoration process should be easy to understand, unlike the convoluted system that's currently in place. There are definitely ways to make the system better, but this ain't it, and if lawmakers really want to address the issue they need to keep in mind the fundamental importance of all our civil rights... not just the right to cast a ballot. 

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