Apr 20, 2023 - News

Tennessee governor calls for vote on gun legislation

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

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Gov. Bill Lee is calling on lawmakers to support new legislation that would temporarily block someone who is deemed a threat to themselves or to others from having guns.

  • The proposal quickly hit a wall of opposition with House Republicans.

Why it matters: Lee said Tennessee had reached a "pivotal moment" following The Covenant School shooting last month that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds.

  • Since then, massive protests calling for gun reforms have become a constant at the Tennessee Capitol.
  • Lee said the new proposal would "improve our state's law so that it protects more Tennesseans and reaches more individuals who are struggling and in need of mental health support."

Driving the news: Legislative language obtained by Axios — which was drafted with input from the Lee administration and lawmakers — would allow law enforcement to pursue a "temporary mental health order of protection" that would block people from having guns for up to six months.

  • It requires a hearing before an order is issued. The court must find the person ​​"poses a current and ongoing substantial likelihood of serious harm" if they have access to guns.
  • The person could hire a lawyer or get court-appointed representation for the hearing.
  • The legislation would allow the order to be extended if the person remains a danger.

Between the lines: The measure faces an uncertain future in the Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly, which has repeatedly moved to expand access to guns.

  • The Tennessee Firearms Association already condemned the broad strokes of Lee's plan. House Republicans responded to the measure in a tweet, saying "any red flag law is a non-starter." Lee has rejected the term red flag law as "nothing but a toxic political label."
  • House GOP caucus chairman Jeremy Faison told the Tennessean there should be a special session later this year to consider the issue.
  • Senate Democrats called for a vote.

What he's saying: "In Tennessee right now, if a husband threatens to hurt his wife, an order of protection would temporarily restrict his access to weapons to protect the spouse," Lee said in a video message.

  • "If that same man threatens to shoot himself or a church or a mall, our proposal will provide that same level of protection to the broader public."

State of play: Lee acknowledged advancing the new bill would be difficult. He said state leaders were "standing at a crossroads, choosing between the easy path and the right path."

  • "The only thing standing in our way is politics."

The bottom line: Lee wants lawmakers to vote on it before the end of the legislative session, which is expected to close this week.

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