Tennessee’s special legislative session worries gun owners like me

Second Amendment

If the governor is serious about stopping shootings, he should focus less on ideas that cannot effectively be enforced, and more on getting troubled people the help they need.


  • JP Staggs lives in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and is a gun owner, pro-gun advocate and member of the NRA.

I was among the many millions of people shocked and terrified at the news that another school shooting had taken place in late March. But this one hit closer to home. I’m a Tennessean and a mom, and I was taking my 1-year-old son to the doctor in Nashville on March 27 when a shooter attacked The Covenant School.

I am also a law-abiding gun owner and I believe the Second Amendment is our last and final line for self-defense. I don’t want our emotional reaction to this and similar tragedies to prompt passage of knee-jerk legislation that strips us further of our rights. Or, as is the case with Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed mental health protection order, leaves those in need of help more vulnerable and more likely alone.

Lee recently announced a special legislative session to convene in August in hopes of passing an extreme risk protection order, sometimes called a “red flag” law in other states. As Tennesseans, we cannot let this happen. The order of protection is being marketed as common sense and, on first glance, it may appear that way. But a further examination of what it actually does and its potential repercussions shows it could be downright dangerous.

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Citizens could be subject to frivolous complaints

The purpose of the proposal is to remove firearms from the possession of a person who may be dangerous to themselves or others, but there is no way to ensure that all of the firearms are actually removed, and there is no provision in the proposal that offers mental health services to the person affected.

That means we have a person who is so unstable a judge has ordered removal of their firearms, then we have police coming to their home and demanding these firearms, but law enforcement doesn’t know if they have one firearm or many. Say, for example, this person hands over one or two but still has three. Then this person is left alone and given no services to help him get better. This will only further agitate someone on the brink, and it doesn’t even guarantee they’re unarmed. 

The proposal also has little protection against frivolous complaints. While the subject of the order is required to be notified and permitted to appear in their own defense at the hearing, there is no safeguard to ensure they are actually notified. A notice could be sent to them or posted on their door, but if they are out of town or don’t see it for whatever reason, they have no way of knowing a hearing is being held.

Furthermore, when presented with any evidence of a person’s instability, why would a judge ever deny the motion? It’s much safer for the judge to grant the order than it is to turn it down.

This creates a scenario where someone may or may not be aware that a hearing about stripping their Second Amendment rights is imminent, and at the hearing, the judge has every incentive to grant the order regardless of if it is warranted. 

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Tennessee’s ranks poorly in mental health access

This proposal is nothing but gun control. If it is being used properly and the subject of the order really is about to do something dangerous, that person should be taken for a mental health evaluation and hospitalized if need be.

Certainly, they need more than a police officer confiscating one of their firearms. If there is evidence that a person has committed a crime, they should be dealt with in the criminal justice system. Lastly, there should be safeguards against frivolous accusations and this law being abused. 

The number of mental health facilities in the U.S. has declined significantly over the decades. That old system was dismantled because it had many problems, but nothing was ever created in its place. We have to give families who are worried about their loved ones access to the help and care they need. We have to take dangerous people off the streets. We have to enact laws that do more than maybe remove firearms from those who are not fit to own them. We have to help them. 

The Covenant School shooter was reportedly very ill. Their family was worried about them. This order of protection would not have stopped the killer from committing this shooting because the family didn’t even know about the firearms. Had help and needed care been available, this may tragedy might have been avoided.

Tennessee ranks 45th of 50 states and the District of Columbia in access to mental health care, according to Mental Health America.

If the governor is serious about stopping shootings like these, he should focus less on ideas that cannot effectively be enforced and are easily abused, and more on getting troubled people and families the resources they need.

JP Staggs lives in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and is a gun owner, pro-gun advocate and member of the NRA.

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