Our Tennessee Op-ed: State laws favor armed protesters over public safety

Our op-ed written in collaboration with Millington Alderman Frankie Dakin has been published in the following outlets:

  • The Memphis Commercial Appeal

My dad got me my first shotgun for Christmas when I was 8 years old. He was a master sergeant in the army at the time, now retired. He taught me how to handle a gun safely, then how to shoot it.

A couple years later, one of my grandpa’s favorite shotguns was damaged in a fire. I took on the task of restoring the old Mossberg and spent hours in our garage removing the rust, re-bluing the barrel, and refinishing the stock.

I grew up with guns. I have a deep respect for the Second Amendment, firearms, and gun owners. But this isn’t about guns.

This is about state preemption laws and special interests that interfere with finding local solutions to local problems.

When the news of the recent violence by armed white nationalists in Charlottesville flashed across my television screen, I felt terrified.

The presence there of an unregulated, heavily armed militia created a hostile atmosphere, and only added to their chilling white supremacist hate speech.

How could men with semiautomatic rifles be allowed to participate in a pre-approved assembly? Why didn’t my locally elected colleagues in Charlottesville do anything?

The answer is as simple as it is tragic: because state lawmakers, beholden to special interests, had tied the city’s hands.

Virginia state legislators stripped the ability of local governments to regulate firearms, including the right to ban them from public protests.

I understand reverence for the Second Amendment. I also understand that we have the fundamental right to speak our views aloud, standing in the public square, free from fear of injury or death.

The unarmed protesters in Charlottesville were denied that right. This isn’t just Virginia’s problem; It’s Tennessee’s too.

The same hate groups that protested in Charlottesville are requesting permits to hold “White Lives Matter” events this weekend in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro.

Earlier this year, our legislature passed a law preventing local government from regulating firearms in any way. Their lobbyists even got the law to allow special interest groups to sue cities if they attempt to keep their communities safe.

Once again, this isn’t about guns. This is about the right to public safety. Under state and federal civil disorder laws, Tennessee cities should be able to prevent similar armed protesters from holding our streets hostage.

Instead, cities now have to worry about preemption laws that void or overrule local laws. They also allow powerful corporate interests to sue cities, passing the burden of costly litigation to taxpayers.

These preemption laws have serious, harmful consequences for our local communities. They prevent us from carrying out a basic responsibility of government: keeping our streets safe.

These laws aren’t just in Tennessee and Virginia. They’re in Florida, Arizona and Kentucky, and are being pushed in several other states.

I’m part of the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a coalition whose mission is to raise awareness about how preemption silences local voices, hobbles cities’ ability to govern, and ultimately hurts the people we represent.

Let our neighborhoods, communities and cities stand together in the public square and settle our differences with words, not with the threat of armed violence nor heavy-handed, big government, state-level interference.

A threat to local gun violence prevention in one community is a threat to all.

Frankie Dakin is an alderman in Millington, and a partner elected official in the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions.