From left: moderator Dave Crouch, Sen. Jack Johnson, Rep. Glen Casada, Rep. Sam Whitson.// Photo by Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
During a regularly scheduled Williamson, Inc. Chamber of Commerce town hall Friday morning, Senator Jack Johnson and Representatives Sam Whitson and Glen Casada spoke about issues from funding education to gun control.
Rep. Charles Sargent, who was slated to attend the forum, was absent as he undergoes cancer treatment.
The discussion centered around topics currently in legislative committees in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Moderator Dave Crouch saved the hot-button topic of gun reform in the wake of the deadly Parkland, Florida school shooting for last. He referenced President Donald Trump’s recent proposal to raise the minimum age for assault weapons purchases to 21.
“The problem is not guns, the problem is there is a morality deficit in a handful of people in this country,” said Casada, the Republican House majority leader.
“We’ve had automatic weapons, we’ve had all these things for a hundred years. When I was a kid, you have guns at schools in the back of your pickup truck. Why all of the sudden are we having this mass murder? Something’s changed in our country, and it’s not guns,” he said.
Casada pointed to other causes of early death from alcohol and drugs, as well as referencing the armed school resource officer at Parkland who did not go inside the building.
“There is a call by few to ban guns, and if we ban guns, only criminals will not turn their guns in and keep them, and then that’s a problem.”
Whitson, a retired U.S. Army colonel, said he got his first semi-automatic gun at age 12. “The only thing that’s changed from the time of that is proliferation of pop culture media glorifying violence,” he said.
Whitson said he would support raising the age limit for semi-automatic weapons. “In the Army, we train those individuals how to employ those weapons, when they can employ those weapons in accordance with the law and warfare,” he said. “We prohibit 19 year-olds, 20 year-olds from buying alcohol, and there’s a reason we do that.”
Johnson agreed with Whitson and Casada, saying he would also support looking into raising the age limit.
Justin Kanew, who is running for U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn’s District 7 seat, said he was disappointed to hear Casada’s response.
“Johnson seemed ready to do something, but the rest of it sounded like a shoulder shrug,” Kanew said. “The time for shoulder shrugs is over. There’s a lot we can do. I’m tired of hearing about how little there is that we can do.”
The conversation also centered around a legislative proposal to secure more dollars outside the state’s basic education plan (BEP) for Williamson County Schools.
In 2007, under Gov. Phil Bredesen, the state revised the BEP, which Johnson said diminished the part of the formula that accounts for growth. Now, each Williamson County pupil receives approximately $3,300, with a state average of around $4,900.
Johnson said the issue was a tricky one due to the county’s status of privilege; “We’re going to get laughed out of the General Assembly because of our prosperity,” he said.
But under the bill, the funding would come from outside of the BEP, to avoid taking dollars away from poorer school districts.
If passed, the legislation would allow for an additional $100 to be added to school funding per student each year until they reach 80 percent of the state average.
Casada said hopes for the bill were high; around 30 house members’ counties would benefit from the bill, while none would be hurt by it.
“This is another cog in that wheel to help us,” Johnson said. No one thing is going to address it, but if all these things can move our way, it will really help us out here in the county with our school funding.”