Aug 30, 2023 - News

Tennessee special session ends without new gun reforms

Illustration of an outline where a gun should be held.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Tennessee lawmakers broke a stalemate Tuesday and ended the special session responding to The Covenant School shooting without passing firearm restrictions.

Why it matters: After the March 27 shooting, Gov. Bill Lee and Covenant parent groups had rallied around a plan to use orders of protection to temporarily keep guns away from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others.

  • But there wasn't enough support among the Republican supermajority to even debate the idea. Versions of the proposal sponsored by Democrats were scuttled without discussion.

Driving the news: The deal to close the session came after days of gridlock between Republican leaders in the House and Senate.

  • Senators only approved four bills. The House pushed for days to pursue additional measures, including efforts to toughen juvenile sentencing.
  • House leaders fiercely criticized their Senate colleagues, accusing them of inaction. But senators held firm and ultimately prevailed.

Four bills will go to the governor's desk:

  1. A bill eliminating sales taxes on gun locks and gun safes
  2. Legislation requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to compile annual reports on human trafficking
  3. A measure shortening the deadline for court clerks to share case information with the TBI
  4. A budget bill funding the session and the approved legislation

Zoom in: The Senate made some changes to the bills as part of the deal to adjourn, including adding funding for mental health and school safety efforts.

  • Other proposals could be revived during the regular legislative session in 2024.

The bottom line: Controversies, chaotic moments and Republican infighting dominated the special session.

  • The final day was no different, with "Tennessee Three" members Reps. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) and Justin Jones (D-Nashville) confronting Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) with pro gun control signs as he left the dais.
  • Videos shared by reporters appear to show Pearson and Sexton making physical contact as lawmakers moved through the crowd. Pearson and Sexton accused each other of shoving, per The Associated Press.

The big picture: Covenant parents, who were a constant presence throughout the session, expressed deep disappointment with the outcome.

  • "We held a special session following the extraordinary tragedy of a mass shooting that took place at The Covenant School, and yet we took no meaningful action," Covenant parent Sarah Shoop Neumann said at a news conference.

Parents pledged to return to push for change in 2024. Neumann said lawmakers who will not come together to listen and consider meaningful reforms "do not deserve a seat in the House or the Senate."

  • "We will work toward ensuring every one of those seats is replaced by someone who has a true desire to listen to their constituents over firearm association lobbyists."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Nashville stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more