- Associated Press - Friday, January 20, 2017

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Jan. 18

The Commercial Appeal on gun bills:

Several bills that, in our minds, will make it easier for more Tennesseans to walk around armed have been introduced in the state legislature.

While we recognize the Second Amendment right to bear arms, we feel that Tennesseans should be concerned about gun rights advocates in the General Assembly, and their supporters, who are still hell bent on making Tennessee an armed camp.

A gun-carry permit bill that failed last session is back, introduced by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough. The measure would make it easier to openly carry a handgun by allowing Tennesseans to do so without first obtaining a permit. As of Tuesday afternoon, the bill did not have a Senate sponsor.

Those interested in carrying a handgun in a concealed manner would still would be required to obtain a permit. The legislation, as it is written, applies only to handguns

The bill is described as one that Second Amendment advocates are pushing throughout the country in an effort to move states toward what is known as “constitutional carry,” the idea that the U.S. Constitution affords gun owners the ability to possess weapons without what they view as unreasonable restrictions, such as the need to obtain a permit.

John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, referred to Van Huss’ bill as a subcategory of constitutional carry. Full constitutional carry would allow anyone to carry a weapon, concealed or in the open, without first obtaining a permit, Harris said.

A bill introduced Tuesday would relax some requirements for background checks during sales of guns between importers, licensed dealers and manufacturers. Filed by Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville, the bill would exempt importers, licensed dealers and manufacturers from the criminal history check requirement of gun sales across the state.

The bill would also allow gun dealers to sell items in their own personal collections without a background check.

The proliferation of gun ownership, even among “law-abiding” citizens, does not necessarily make us safer. Just do an internet search on the number of domestic homicides committed by individuals with gun-carry permits.

Do we really want people who do not have a gun-carry permit walking around with a gun on their hip?

In these times of mass shootings by people who should not have been able to legally purchase a firearm, is it wise to relax requirements for background checks during sales of guns?

Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association believes the permit legislation is an incremental effort to move toward the ultimate goal of allowing firearms owners to obtain and carry weapons without getting a permit.

Last July, a law went into effect, over the objections of university administrators, that allows full-time Tennessee college employees to carry guns on campus. Gov. Bill Haslam let the bill become law without his signature.

The House sponsor, Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said he believed the law was an “important next step” to allow students to go armed on campus as well, adding, “My intention is to eliminate all gun-free zones, whether it’s the legislature or a college campus.”

Are Tennesseans really better off if anyone can carry a handgun anywhere they want to? Most gun-carry advocates will answer with a resounding yes. But what about the rest of us?

Online:

https://www.commercialappeal.com/

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Jan. 17

The Knoxville News Sentinel on reviewing the response to the Gatlinburg wildfire:

The National Park Service is forming an inter-agency task force to study the response to the Chimney Tops 2 fire that spread in November into Gatlinburg and other areas outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The review should identify whether park officials made the right call in allowing the fire to burn and provide information that can help prevent future catastrophes.

The fire, initially started by humans, burned for five days near the summit of Chimney Tops before near-hurricane-force winds blew the fire toward Gatlinburg, 5.5 miles to the north, on Nov. 28.

The conflagration killed 14 people and injured dozens more. More than 2,400 structures in the city of Gatlinburg and nearby areas of Sevier County were damaged or destroyed.

Park Superintendent Cassius Cash told the News Sentinel last week that the team should be on the ground within two weeks.

“The Individual Fire Review team will have representatives from the Park Service, but not us; the (U.S.) Forest Service; the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife Service; and a local fire chief from one of the surrounding communities,” he said.

“I don’t know the number because there could be one or two from each agency,” he said. “We won’t have an adviser or a representative (for the team), however, it will be able to ask questions of any of us. That is the value of someone coming from the outside who doesn’t have a dog in the fight to give us feedback on things that went well and things that we could do better.”

The Park Service’s Division of Fire and Aviation Management will oversee the process, and Dan Buckley, the Park Service’s Wildland Fire Branch chief, is leading the group in charge of putting the team together.

There has been some criticism of how the fire was handled, given the longstanding drought conditions and with a forecast of high winds. Park officials cited the Chimney Tops’ steep, rugged terrain as a reason to allow the initial fire to keep burning - a forest management practice often followed under certain conditions.

When the winds came howling through the mountains, the flames swiftly leaped down to Gatlinburg. Authorities said they received reports of more than 20 fires inside the city in a 15-minute span.

Cash stood by his defense of the Park Service’s handling of the fire.

“I have had time to reflect, and I remain confident in the decisions made by the deputy superintendent, the chief ranger and the fire management officer,” he said.

To its credit, the Park Service is not using the criminal investigation into the cause of the fire to delay the review, which is limited to the agency’s response to the blaze once it was discovered. Two juveniles face aggravated arson charges in connection with the fire.

A diagnostic review of policies, procedures and actions is appropriate following a disaster of this magnitude. The Park Service then needs to apply its findings to firefighting protocols to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future.

Online:

https://www.knoxnews.com/

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Jan. 14

The Johnson City Press on the state’s anti-cockfighting laws:

Tennessee has notoriously weak laws against cockfighting, but state legislators do not seem motivated to do anything about it.

They have routinely declined to get tough on cockfighting. Lawmakers have even defended this barbaric practice as part of the tradition and culture of many rural communities since Colonial times.

Supporters will also argue that the father of this country, George Washington, was himself a cockfighting enthusiast. We would also point out to those people that Washington was also a firm believer in bloodletting, a medical practice of the 18th century that some historians believe contributed to his death.

In recent years, bills that would have returned cockfighting to a felony offense have stalled in the state House Agriculture Committee.

Legislators refused to crack down on cockfighting even after hearing testimony from federal agents who say Tennessee is part of the infamous “Cockfighting Corridor,” where criminals who engage in this blood sport flock to ply their horrifying trade.

An FBI agent also told legislators a few years ago that the operator of a busted cockfighting pit in Cocke County boasted that he bribed a state lawmaker nearly 20 years ago to lower the penalty for cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor. Since that time, Tennessee has seen its reputation as the cockfighting capitol of the South grow.

Cockfighting is not a harmless diversion. There’s an obvious link between cockfighting and interstate gambling and illegal drugs.

It’s a despicable crime that deserves more than a slap on the wrist. That’s why the Humane Society of the United States pays a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of cockfighters.

To report a cockfighting pit in your neighborhood, call 202-452-1100, or go to humanesociety.org/cockfighting to learn more.

Online:

https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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