The ricochet effects of Bill Haslam's words to the Tennessee Firearms Association have gone every whichaway, but Haslam's position is that his position on guns hasn't changed.
The Knoxville mayor and Republican nominee for governor in the Nov. 2 election said Monday he is a little surprised by the continued reaction to recent remarks he made on concealed carry gun permits. But he said his belief that the law should stay the way it is now has not been altered in any way.
"I've been campaigning for two years. I think I've been real consistent in what I'm talking about in terms of what I am going to do as governor," Haslam said.
Haslam told the TFA recently that if the General Assembly sent him a bill saying people do not have to have permits to carry handguns he would sign it, although Haslam said he favored leaving the law the way it is.
Knocking on doors in southern Davidson County on Monday, Haslam saw inconsistency in the way the subject has been treated.
"I feel like the media, quite frankly, is always saying the legislature talks too much about guns -- too much about guns. Now all of a sudden all anybody wants to talk about. . . What you've heard from me for two years is that what I'm going to be focused on as the governor is jobs, the budget, education, all those things," Haslam told reporters.
Haslam's Democratic opponent, Mike McWherter, has seized on what Haslam told the gun group with a new television ad, and newspapers -- including some who have endorsed Haslam -- have taken him to task in recent days.
"If Haslam as governor would sign anything the legislature passes, what other opportunities to lead would he forfeit?" The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, which has endorsed Haslam, asked.
The Tennessean in Nashville, which also endorsed Haslam, said Haslam's comment was "irresponsible" and said it reinforces "a gun-culture that most business leaders say is detrimental to the state and something that nearly all law enforcement professionals in Tennessee oppose."
Haslam was asked Monday if he regretted anything about the way he has handled the issue.
"Obviously, I could have communicated more clearly," Haslam said. "Interestingly, a lot of people misinterpreted it both ways."
He said his campaign has received calls from people who believe he wants to take away their handgun carry permits.
"So obviously, I just didn't communicate real clearly that day about exactly what my feelings were."
Gun issues have hounded the Haslam campaign throughout the year. Haslam has repeatedly had to answer to critics who take exception to his membership at one point in Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group normally associated with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and considered not to be friendly to gun advocates. Haslam has said the mayors group got away from his original understanding of its mission.
So he has been under watch throughout the campaign for anything he says on gun rights. Haslam has insisted he supports Second Amendment rights to bear arms. He has not made Second Amendment rights a priority in his campaign, choosing instead to concentrate on the economy, jobs and the status of the state budget.
But gun issues have come to be a major point of debate in the Tennessee General Assembly in recent years and heavily covered by media outlets, especially with the controversial "guns in bars" bill that Gov. Phil Bredesen vetoed but saw the legislature override.
Haslam repeated his view Monday that he does not believe the legislature would go so far as to lift requirements on gun carry permits. He said he had had a brief conversation with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a strong gun-rights legislator, in which Haslam said they shared a good-natured exchange about the flap, but he said Ramsey did not express any interest in that conversation in pushing such legislation. Ramsey has been quoted as saying he would support such legislation, however, taking much the same position as Haslam.
Haslam said he does not own a gun, but he said he gave his son, Will, a gun for Christmas.
"I don't play a lot of golf either," Haslam said.
He was also asked if guns owned by employees are allowed on the property of Pilot Travel Centers, of which the Haslam family is part owner, and he said he did not know the answer.
"It never came up in the 20 years I worked there," he said. "I really don't know."