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Gun control debate highlights political divide

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Florence Tolbert explains to Rebekah Majors-Manley (not pictured) why she believes proposed gun control measures would violate the U.S. Constitution during a Feb. 1, 2013, event with U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (TMP Photo/M. Kemph)

As the discussion of gun control continues to heat up, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais witnessed first hand Friday how the issue has thrust opposing viewpoints of constitutional interpretation into the forefront of political discourse.

Amid a tense debate that erupted between two women after an event he hosted at City Café in Murfreesboro last week, the political divide became clear: Much of their argument premised on drastically different beliefs about how the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Bill of Rights, should be interpreted.

“If it were not for the Constitution, we would not be free,” said Murfreesboro resident Florence Tolbert, who said she opposes many of the gun control measures proposed by President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California who is pushing for the ban of more than 150 types of weapons.

“We should not make laws based on emotion,” Tolbert said. “What does the Constitution say?”

In response, Bell Buckle resident Rebekah Majors-Manley contended Congress should not take a literal approach to interpreting the Constitution because the Founding Fathers wrote it more than 200 years ago, long before mass shootings became a public policy issue.

“So, the Constitution that was written a long time ago, did they know we were going to have magazines and our kids going to school were going to be killed and shot,” said Majors-Manley, a volunteer with the Tennessee chapter of Organize for America, which helped campaign for Obama during the last election.

“Do you want to open the paper and read that kids in Rutherford County were shot by a mentally ill person in school,” Majors-Manley said to Tolbert. “Do you want me to invite you to the funeral of the next kid killed at school? No, you do not.”

Tolbert defended her position by saying she did not imply any such thing.

“We have to follow the Constitution,” she said, adding the Second Amendment specifically states that those rights shall not be infringed by the federal government.

When pressed further about the issue, Majors-Manley said she believes public safety overrides many of the concerns expressed by voters like Tolbert.

“I do not care about the Constitution,” Majors-Manley said. “I care about protecting our children. … This is about making sure our right not to get shot is protected. Why must we live in fear because everyone wants to be armed with weapons (that are designed) for war?”

The views expressed by Tolbert and Majors-Manley, who said she supports the idea that the Constitution is a living document, highlight a fundamental divide that many scholars believe has shaped American politics for centuries.

“A literal interpretation might focus on the meaning of the words at the time they were written, or they might focus on the perceived intent of those who proposed and ratified them,” said John Vile, dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University, who is a historian and political science scholar.

Even so, it depends on the context of the situation and person. Usually, however, liberal-leaning voters are more likely to support an expansive interpretation of the Constitution, he said.

“It is important to realize that the Constitution does not specify whether it should be interpreted strictly or liberally,” Vile said, adding Chief Justice John Marshall, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court during the early 1800s, once observed that it is more important for Americans to try to understand the Constitution in its plain sense.

And the Republican and Democratic parties have used both interpretations throughout the years for political reasons, he added.

Moreover, Vile said, those who helped write and ratify the Constitution quickly split into rival parties with very different views of how it should be interpreted.

“Motivations vary,” Vile said. “I suspect that many people simply assume the Constitution must say what they hope it says or what they think it says without doing a lot of scholarly research. For what it is worth, even scholars are divided on the subject.”

Although much of the time was spent corralling other attendees who were also just as divided on the matter, DesJarlais was able to discuss his position on the gun control issue during the event, dubbed “Coffee with the Congressman.”

“I am committed to protecting Second Amendment rights,” said DesJarlais, a Republican who was recently re-elected to his second term in the House of Representatives. “Emotions do bring bad laws, and this is a unique right that Americans have cherished for a very long time.”

Murfreesboro resident Sara Mitchell, however, said DesJarlais should be willing to consider some regulations on military style weapons because “civilians do not need those” for everyday purposes.

“If the government can establish some limits, then that is something that should be looked at,” said Mitchell, who served in the U.S. Army.

“As I have traveled across the 4th Congressional District,” DesJarlais said to Mitchell, “I have heard the opposite from other constituents … you are in the minority right now. The majority wants their Second Amendment rights protected, and I intend to respect their wishes.”

Read more from:
Barack Obama, Congress, Democrats, Dianne Feinstein, Florence Tolbert, GOP, Gun Control, Guns, John Vile, Murfreesboro, Politics, Rebekah Majors Manley, Rutherford County, Sara Mitchell, Scott DesJarlais
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Members Opinions:
February 07, 2013 at 10:28am
The bulk of this article is about opposing views on how the second amendment is interpreted. DeJarlais dodged the very logical question posed by Sara Mitchell by hiding behind one interpretaion of the second amendment. The same question was posed to the spokeman for the NRA by the father of one of the children killed at Sandyhook and (he) also would not give an answer to the question. Why? Because there seem to be no logical answer.
February 07, 2013 at 3:23pm
"The society that puts safety before freedom will end up with neither."
February 07, 2013 at 6:44pm
DesJarlais is on the wrong side of history on this one. Instead of thinking for himself and talking to those who can help him understand the second amendment, he hides behind his constituents, many of whom believe a tyrannical government is coming to take our guns away. Does DesJarlais imagine raids by the military, the police or other tyrannical government agencies? In other words, a fascist or nazi state? I prefer that my Congressman take a reasonable and thoughtful approach to this issue.
February 07, 2013 at 7:05pm
well the thing is laverne, if they took our guns away we would not be able to stop a government that oversteps its boundaries. If we have no way to defend ourselves we are sitting ducks.
February 08, 2013 at 7:33am
I have not read or heard of any proposal to "take our guns away". This is a rumor spreading among and by gullible people. Restricting a certain type of weapon does not take away the right to own all other types of guns. Restrictions on owning certain exotic animals does not mean we cannot have pets.
February 10, 2013 at 6:00pm
you can not compare animals with pets. and they only want to take 150 types of weapons, and that is the problem. the government gets to decide which weapon is too lethal and what is not.

are you saying a shotgun cannot kill? are you saying a handgun cannot kill? we should not allow our fears of less than five people out of 300 million people restrict the 300 million people who follow the law.

another question, if there were no assualt rifles, do you honestly think Sandy Hook would not have happened? it would, and instead of an ar-15, it would be a shotgun or handgun and the same amount of people would still be dead.

and to the "take our guns away" comment. WHY WOULD THEY ANNOUNCE THAT IF IT WAD THE PLAN?? They would not announce it and tell eveyone the exact opposite. Who remembers that the Vietnam war was started from a lie? They said North Vietnam attacked us, but do research on "the gulf of tonkin incident" and tell me the government would never lie to us.
February 10, 2013 at 6:01pm
February 11, 2013 at 7:38am
"are you saying a shotgun cannot kill?"
Of course a shotgun can kill, just not as many. To help protect migratory wildfowl,Federal law limits the number of rounds allowed in shotgun to three giving ducks a better chance for survival that humans. That seems to be the logic behind limiting the size of the magazines for semi or automatic weapons. Give us your estimate of how many children would have been killed if the (killer) had used a shotgun vs a semi-automatic. Shotguns were designed for hunting game, the weapon used at Sandy Hook was designed to kill people. Thats why you don't hunt ducks with an AK47.
February 14, 2013 at 10:28pm
Most shotguns hold at least 6 shells unless there is a sporting plug installed which limits it to 3. This is only required for hunting in the field, but otherwise a shotgun can hold as many shells as it is designed to hold and it is perfectly legal to own.

As for the gun debate itself, I can understand both points of view on this subject. First of all, no one wants innocent civilians being shot in movie theatres, schools, malls, or anywhere else for that matter and military style firearms with high capacity magazines provide a convenient means of doing so. And while it is certainly very true that a person who is determined to do something terrible will find a way to do it, the current state of affairs makes it quiet easy for them to do so.

Pro gun advocates typically oppose restrictions as they are concerned with the development of government tyranny, which is not completely without reason given the history of democratic countries that were taken over by dictators, such as what happened with Hitler in Germany. Their argument for legal access to military style firearms is based on the idea that in order to fight a tyrannical government, you must possess equivalent firepower, though even now it's illegal to own missile launchers, tanks, grenades, nuclear warheads, predator drones, etc. so this is not the best argument considering that the population is already severely outgunned.

I personally believe that civilian ban on weapons specifically designed to kill large numbers of people is a good idea, considering that we already have a military suitable to defending the nation, and from which I'm sure a great number of soldiers would defect if the government were to launch an offensive against the general population. Even if this was not the case, shotguns, small arms, and hunting rifles in particular would be more effective in combat than most people may realize. From there, more sophisticated weapons could be collected from the deceased, as terrible as all it sounds.

Obviously this a very heated issue & for good reason as both sides have solid arguments, though it is my personal opinion that the general public does not need access to weapons intended for killing as many people as possible within the shortest amount of time. There is no other intended use for these weapons, and there is no reason for the public to be in danger so enthusiast can shoot them for sport. On a final note, I would like to add that I am myself a concealed carry permit holder, not that that gives my opinion any special standing. I only mention it to illustrate that I am not coming at this from a slanted point of view. Having been a victim of an assault with a deadly weapon myself, I do not wish to lose my 2nd amendment rights and will fight to protect them, though it is certainly past due time for people to find a reasonable compromise on this issue for safety's sake. Potentially tyrannical government or not, it is only civilians who are getting killed in the meanwhile.
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