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Extreme Liberty

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Indeed, the notion of individual liberty is so deeply embedded in the Tennessee Constitution that it, alone among American constitutions, gives the people, in the face of governmental oppression and interference with liberty, the right to resist that oppression even to the extent of overthrowing the government.

Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d 588, 599 (Tenn. 1992).

  1. mb
    February 5, 2011 at 2:49 am

    More importantly it gives people the right to carry guns in bars, and have open alcohol in their vehicles.

  2. AD
    February 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm


    First, it is important to distinguish between the Tennessee Constitution and the laws the General Assembly passes. The former has some things to say about guns and no things to say about alcohol, while various of the latter cover the specific issues you raise. (The full text of the Tennessee Constitution is available at http://www.state.tn.us/sos/bluebook/05-06/46-tnconst.pdf.)

    Second, the so-called “guns in bars” law, roughly speaking, simply changes a default rule and could be seen as having more to do with property rights than gun rights. The law establishes, as a default rule, that people may bring guns (pursuant to proper licenses) into restaurants (note that there really isn’t such a thing as a “bar” in Tennessee) unless the property owner objects, in which case he or she posts a notice prohibiting guns. While the effects of nudges like a particular default rule are noteworthy, all this law does is switch the default presumption.

  3. mb
    February 6, 2011 at 12:57 am


    Seriously though, this post made me think a lot about Isaiah Berlin’s essay “Two Concepts of Liberty” (http://jmaggio.typepad.com/no_call_me_jay/files/two_concepts_of_liberty.pdf), where he differentiates between positive liberty – freedom to do things or pursue certain actions – and negative liberty – freedom from constraints. While I am totally oversimplifying his point, the distinction is helpful in understanding the difference in what I often take Americans to mean by “freedom” (negative liberty), and what I think Canadians might mean by it (positive liberty). So while in Tennessee it is in accordance with an idea of freedom to remove the constraints that would otherwise prevent a citizen from entering a restaurant with a gun, in British Columbia, it is likewise in accordance with an idea of freedom to put restrictions in place that allow citizens to enter a restaurant without fear of being shot. The less trivial (and more germane to recent QP posts) example would obviously be healthcare, but car insurance, traffic lights, seatbelt laws etc all come to mind as well.

  4. mb
    February 6, 2011 at 1:00 am

    (this has little to do with the Tennessee Constitution -sorry!, but I do think your post raises questions about to what extent we can push at the boundaries around “freedom”…)

    • AD
      February 7, 2011 at 8:53 am


      I agree that the difference between positive and negative liberty is more than mere posturing. One can also approach (and make a worthwhile effort to avoid conflating) the directly related issue of government authority in the same way (i.e., positive and negative authority). I attempted to take up the latter matter here. If you review that post in light of this one, it may be useful to recall that, while the U.S. Constitution prescribes a government ostensibly of limited powers, the Tennessee Constitution prescribes a government of general powers.

  5. mb
    February 9, 2011 at 12:20 am

    I have to temporarily bow out of this thread while I try to get a handle on constitutions, general assemblies, limited vs. general powers, etc. I came close to failing Intro Political Science…in Canada.

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