Thursday's front page of the Chattanooga Times Free Press was a snapshot of the confused world we live in.
At the top of the page, one headline screamed, "Carry on" about Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signing into a law what's been called the "guns everywhere bill" at a barbecue in Ellijay, Ga. The National Rifle Association has called Georgia's new Safe Carry Protection Act "the most comprehensive pro-gun reform bill in state history."
Right beside that headline is another: "Experts, prayer to guide Haslam." That story is about how Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam "as a 'Christian man' would approach the 'super difficult' decision for the state to carry out an execution." Tennessee has 10 convicted murderers with scheduled execution dates in the next two years.
As a nation, we have growing doubts about the death penalty. A 2013 poll by the Pew Research Center found support for the death penalty has fallen sharply -- by 23 percentage points, from 78 percent to 55 percent -- since 1996, the lowest level in almost two decades. The poll also found a 10-point drop in just the last two years in respondents who say they "strongly favor" the death penalty, from 28 percent to 18 percent. The percentage of Americans who say they oppose the death penalty has risen to 37 percent.
But also as a nation we favor increased gun control -- even while our politicians don't and gun violence grows. In September 2013, a Huffington Post/YouGov poll found little sympathy for the argument frequently made by gun-rights advocates that people carrying guns would lead to lower gun violence. Respondents rejected that argument by a 44 percent to 38 percent margin.
A month later, a Gallup poll found 49 percent of people thought laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, while 37 percent thought laws should be kept as they are and 13 percent said laws should be less strict.
In Georgia this week, Deal turned a pro-gun bill signing into a political party as he jockeyed to look just as red as his two ultra-conservative 2014 primary challengers. The bill he signed into law allows guns in more public places than at any time in the past century, including churches, bars, and government buildings that do not have security checkpoints, thus the "guns everywhere" moniker.
Tennesseans are fortunate -- for now. The guns-in-parks bill, which would have banned local control of guns in public parks, passed the Senate but was pushed to the end of the legislative calendar, a move that meant the House ran out of time to vote on it before the session ended.
A more sweeping gun law that didn't get passed in the Volunteer State was one that would allow open carry of handguns without state-issued permits. That bill, in essence, does away with any requirement for a permit -- and the training and background checks that go with those permits. Tennessee already allows gun ownership without a permit if the weapon is kept in the home.
Don't be lulled to sleep. Just as the NRA leaned on Georgia, the pro-gun group will continue to focus on Tennessee. The NRA's mode of action is to smother pro-gun candidates with campaign contributions. And they really pour on the contributions to opponents of politicians who oppose loosening gun laws or favor stricter gun laws.
In state capitols, money does seem to talk louder than words -- and clearly louder than public opinion.