Aug 9, 2023 - Politics

Special session to only allow narrow discussion on gun reforms

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Gov. Bill Lee has issued a proclamation setting the parameters of the special legislative session responding to The Covenant School shooting.

  • The proclamation will limit debates lawmakers can have regarding gun reforms.

Why it matters: Lee pitched the Aug. 21 special session as an opportunity to improve public safety following the March 27 mass shooting that killed three 9-year-old students and three staff members.

  • Under the proclamation, lawmakers can pursue legislation on a wide range of topics, including mental health, school safety and juvenile court cases. Policies encouraging safe firearm storage can be considered — but "penalties for failing to safely store firearms" can't.
  • Lee's legislative package will include measures to eliminate taxes on firearm safes and efforts to expand access to mental health care.

State of play: The call leaves the door open for lawmakers to consider Lee's proposal to expand orders of protection to temporarily block people from guns if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.

  • Polls show the public favors the idea, but it faces stiff resistance among Republican lawmakers.

Democrats were quick to criticize the scope of Lee's proclamation, saying it wouldn't allow a robust debate on gun reforms.

Meanwhile, conservative pushback to such reforms remains strong. In the run-up to the special session, state Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) sent lawmakers a report he requested from the state comptroller analyzing gun violence in Tennessee schools.

  • The analysis, which was first reported by the Tennessee Lookout, found 49 school shootings in the past 25 years based on the K-12 School Shooting Database.
  • (The report excluded 14 additional shootings listed in the database, such as shootings that took place outside schools after hours or shootings in which gunfire inadvertently hit a school bus.)

What they're saying: "Interestingly, no one seems to be crying out to ban hypodermic needles because of overdose deaths," Ragan wrote. "Likewise, nobody is demanding a ban on Corvettes and Mustangs because of drunk-driver-caused fatalities."

  • "Guns, like hypodermic needles and automobiles, have legitimate uses other than causing criminally-inflicted deaths. Consequently, logic seems to require a focus on something other than the inanimate object involved in a criminally-inflicted death."

The other side: "How many deaths of innocent children is too many for them?" Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) said in response to Ragan's email, per the Lookout. "How many will it take before my colleagues will agree to look at this issue objectively and have an adult conversation about the root cause of gun violence?"

  • "The people of Tennessee want us to improve public safety, and they deserve better than extremist legislators who are too afraid of their own shadows to do anything to prevent innocent children from being murdered."
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