NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In gun-friendly Tennessee, President Donald Trump’s ideas to ban bump stocks and bar people under 21 from buying semi-automatic guns have put the leading GOP candidates for governor in a tough spot. In response, they have mostly avoided taking firm stances.
Trump has added further uncertainty with his ongoing, unpredictable evolution on gun control. On Wednesday he suggested he would support requiring a review of firearm purchases online and at gun shows, ideas the powerful National Rifle Association opposes. After meeting Thursday with the NRA, Trump’s press secretary walked that back Friday, saying Trump wants to strengthen background checks, but didn’t commit to universal background checks.
Trump has said the ban on bump stocks, which enable guns to fire like automatic weapons, would be addressed by executive order.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black said Tuesday she’s currently not sure she’d vote for the bump stock ban, adding that she doesn’t think the device is the “reason that all this happened.” But she said would want to hear more information about it. She also said raising the minimum age for gun purchases needs to be decided state-by-state, but she opposes it. She steered the conversation toward mental health.
“I do not support raising the age requirement for firearms,” Black said in a statement Friday. “We shouldn’t infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners because of the actions of a deranged individual.”
Businessman Bill Lee said he’d be open to a possible bump stock ban, but not to raising the weapon age limit.
“I have concern whenever we take away a constitutional right, the right to bear arms,” Lee, a Franklin construction company owner, said Tuesday.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and businessman Randy Boyd have not offered concrete positions.
Harwell has said Trump’s support of a bump stock ban makes it more high profile and gives it more credibility, but she said she needs to study the issue further. She didn’t take a stance on raising the age.
Harwell said the issue might be handled in Washington, though state lawmakers can try to address it this year.
“If members want to address that this session, we can,” the Nashville Republican said Tuesday. “We’re running out of time, but yeah, if they want to do it, we’ll take a look at it.”
Citing uncertainty about what will come out of Washington, Boyd’s campaign instead mentioned mental health and increased security through well-trained officers in schools.
“It is still unclear … what is being proposed about that at the federal level, so Randy believes the most immediate issue is focusing on what we can do at the state level to ensure the safety of Tennessee students and teachers in their classrooms,” said Boyd campaign spokeswoman Laine Arnold.
Term-limited Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has spoken out in support of both changes. He has said “it’s just crazy” to him that 19-year-olds can’t buy a beer, but can buy semi-automatic weapons.
Both Democrats echoed Haslam’s drinking age comparison.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley said he’d support both changes.
Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said Thursday that Tennesseans need to ask themselves what age limit makes sense for semi-automatic weapons. He said he supports a bump stock ban.
“There are public safety reasons why you can’t buy alcohol until you’re 21, and those same public safety reasons could logically apply to purchasing an assault weapon,” Dean said in a statement. “We need to be willing to have tough conversations across party lines to see what we can agree on in this state and move from there to help keep our children and families safe.”