Apr 22, 2023 - News

Tennessee governor to call special session on gun reform

Illustration of the Tennessee State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Soon after Tennessee lawmakers concluded their work for the year without considering Gov. Bill Lee's plan to keep firearms away from "dangerous people," Lee said he would call them back for a special session on the issue.

Driving the news: The Republican governor did not say when the session would begin, but he said it would "continue our work to protect Tennessee communities and preserve constitutional rights."

  • "There is broad agreement that dangerous, unstable individuals who intend to harm themselves or others should not have access to weapons," Lee said in a statement.
  • "We also share a strong commitment to preserving Second Amendment rights, ensuring due process and addressing the heart of the problem with strengthened mental health resources.”

Why it matters: Lee's announcement will put more pressure on conservative lawmakers to act on guns after The Covenant School shooting.

  • The governor's plan would build on the state's order of protection law to create a process for taking firearms from someone who threatens to harm themselves or someone else.

Flashback: Lee had pleaded with lawmakers to vote on the measure two days before they finished for the year. They never introduced or debated the legislative language from the governor's administration.

State of play: Their refusal emphasized the intense resistance to gun restrictions within the deeply conservative General Assembly. But some lawmakers suggested that a special session would give them the extra time needed to vet Lee's proposed legislation.

Between the lines: The plan was designed to address the concerns of Republicans who say so-called "red flag laws" don't offer due process for gun owners.

  • Lee's plan would have required a hearing where the subject was given a chance to defend themselves. The subjects could hire a lawyer or get a court-appointed attorney to argue on their behalf.
  • Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons said Lee had "watered down" his proposal to win Republican support.
  • Even so, Republican lawmakers in the House quickly rejected the measure as a "non-starter."

What they're saying: After the legislature wrapped its 2023 session on Friday evening, lawmakers said they wanted to hold hearings to get feedback from law enforcement and other groups.

  • House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he would not support the governor's plan as it exists now.
  • "I still think it needs work, but we now have time to do that work," Lamberth said. "I would like to hear from the people of Tennessee."

The big picture: Large protests for gun reform have become a constant at the Tennessee State Capitol following the March 27 school shooting that killed six people, including three children and a close friend of Tennessee first lady Maria Lee.

The bottom line: It remains unclear if Lee's order of protection plan will win support in the General Assembly, which has expanded access to guns. The plan is also likely to evolve as debate gets underway.

  • But the special session ensures gun reform will remain a dominant issue in Tennessee politics.

What's next: Lee will announce more information on the special session in the coming days.


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