Apr 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Tennessee governor wants new law to keep guns from "dangerous people"

Photo illustration of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants state lawmakers to develop a "new, stronger order of protection law" that would keep firearms away from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or to others.

  • He also signed an executive order Tuesday seeking to bolster background checks.

Why it matters: Lee's comments come about two weeks after The Covenant School shooting that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds. He said the policies would be a "next step in making sure that our communities are a safer place to live."

  • The governor is pressing lawmakers to pass the new legislation before the end of the session.

Zoom in: Lee said the state should build on the legal process surrounding orders of protection in domestic violence cases, but that his vision for legislation "goes beyond the scope of orders of protection that exist in Tennessee today."

  • "This would be a different order of protection law that would deal with those who are a danger to others, those who are a danger to themselves."

Yes, but: There are no specifics on how that would work in practice.

  • Details are still being hammered out as officials consider what could pass in the Republican-dominated General Assembly, which has consistently expanded access to guns.
  • Lee, a Republican, has had conversations with leaders in both parties.

What he's saying: "We should set aside politics and pride and accomplish something," Lee told reporters.

  • "I'm one that believes that really difficult circumstances can bring about really positive outcomes."

Between the lines: Some lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, have voiced support for measures like red flag laws that would allow law enforcement to seize guns from dangerous people. But many conservatives have bristled at the concept.

  • Lee has avoided the phrase "red flag law," and instead frames his proposal as an extension of order of protection protocols to keep "dangerous people from firearms."

State of play: House Speaker Cameron Sexton tells Axios new legislation "must have a level of due process, protections from fraudulent claims, and a quick judicial hearing for individuals who pose imminent threats."

Meanwhile: Lee's executive order establishes a 72-hour deadline for courts to report new criminal or mental health information to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state agency that conducts background checks.

  • The order also asks the TBI to review its process surrounding background check reporting to identify where improvements might be made.

Flashback: Last week, Lee proposed measures focused on hardening school security. Lawmakers quickly passed related legislation.

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