BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The murders of 20 young elementary school students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December by a mentally unbalanced young man have opened a whirlwind of nationwide debate on gun control and the right to own at least some types of firearms.
During Tuesday evening's meeting of the Greene County Commission, everyone -- Republicans, Democrats and Tea Partiers alike -- seemed to agree with one message:
"Don't blame me, the law-abiding citizen. And don't blame my gun."
In an organized presentation during the public hearing, four local citizens urged the commission and Sheriff Steve Burns to make known their opinion on gun control and to take a stand for Greene County's Second Amendment rights.
The first to speak was PK Lowrey, who began with an historical outline of the writing of the Constitution and what he said was the foretelling of an "inevitable emergence of tyranny," with American citizens having "lost their sovereignty" after the Civil War.
This, he said, led America in a new direction.
"Government became unbridled; rulers became free to plan and execute whatever they desired," he said. "The Bill of Rights and other constitutional limits on government succumbed to the tyranny of democracy."
Over time, he said, the economy and our nation's heritage have dwindled.
"The rulers are now panicking because the fiscal house of cards is nearing a disastrous fall, which cannot be avoided," Lowrey concluded.
"Thomas Jefferson stated that, 'No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.' The question is: are we, indeed, free men, or have we come to the end of the road to tyranny?"
Next to speak was Neil Smith, who referred to the proposed limitations on ownership of semi-automatic rifles and on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and national gun registration, as an "emotional response to the tragedy that happened in the Sandy Hook Elementary School."
"Our God-given right of self-defense is in jeopardy," Smith added. "If you say that I have the right of self-defense, but you deny me the means to exercise that right, then you have denied the right itself."
Smith called on the commission and Burns to "stand in the gap" between Greene County's citizens and "the tyranny of the federal government" by declaring "any 'new' federal gun laws to be 'null and void'" within Greene County.
"I have never been arrested for anything in any jurisdiction," he said.
"But, I will not register my guns or magazines. I will not voluntarily give up any of my guns as long as there is breath within me, so help me God."
Taking the stand after Smith was Frank Barwick, who said he also spoke for another member of their group who was not present at Tuesday's meeting.
Barwick emphasized the right to bear arms as a protection against government tyranny and as a means to provide food.
He also noted that some have claimed there are actually fewer crimes when guns are in the hands of the people, praising those areas that encourage gun ownership.
Barwick concluded his comments by quoting numerous county sheriffs who he said have made public statements in support of gun ownership rights.
"It is time for Greene County to be as courageous as these sheriffs," he concluded.
Last to speak for the group was Don McIntrye, who argued that the American people have been armed for over 200 years.
"It has not been a problem until now," he said.
McIntyre cited the "real cause" of most mass shootings as psychiatric and, frequently, happening in gun-free zones.
"Sheriff, you have much power in this county," McIntyre said in a final address to Burns, calling on him to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the citizens of Greene County against "unconstitutional dictates."
"It's time for us to draw our line in the sand," he said, concluding with the call for a resolution from the County Commission and statement from Burns supporting gun ownership rights.
Commissioner Bill Dabbs was the only commissioner to directly respond to this, arguing that he cannot see a need to support individuals owning firearms that can discharge 10 or more rounds, something that he alleged has been opposed by many past presidents on both sides of the aisle.
Nonetheless, while he said he does not understand the current arguments and "turmoil," he said he is in support of the individual right to own a firearm.
"I do not believe for one minute that the government is going to take my guns," he said. "[But] I wouldn't give them to them if they came to my home and asked."
While the commission took no formal action on the matter, Burns responded by taking the podium and reminding those present of what he said has been his past record of supporting those who have used their own firearms to defend themselves against invaders.
"I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, both of the United States and the State of Tennessee, including the Second Amendment, which has been upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States," he said.
"As long as I am sheriff, I intend to do just that."
This statement drew loud applause throughout the courtroom before County Mayor Alan Broyles called everyone to order, asking members of the public to refrain from all such reaction to statements made during the meeting.
"Of course, we applaud in our minds what the sheriff has just stated," he said.