Republican senator looks at NRA-backed option with governor’s bill facing trouble

Second Amendment

A key Republican senator is planning an alternative to Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed extreme risk protection order bill, a measure hitting a wall as the Legislature approaches an Aug. 21 special session.

Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, said Tuesday he is working with the National Rifle Association on legislation dealing with mental health in response to the mass shooting at The Covenant School in Green Hills where six people were killed, including three 9-year-olds.

Haile declined to provide specifics but said, “I think we have threaded the needle.”

Meanwhile, a statewide group with nonprofit status called Voices for a Safer Tennessee has hired two lobbying firms, Bivens & Associates and JohnsonPossKirby, to represent it in a push for stronger gun laws in the wake of the shooting. 

“This is a very serious subject. It’s a politically-charged issue, and we want to make sure we have good representation” in finding a solution, said Todd Cruse, chairman of Voices for a Safer Tennessee.

The group supports an order of protection law, secure storage for firearms and background checks for all gun purchases, Cruse said.

Haile, the Senate speaker pro tem, said he can’t support Lee’s proposed extreme risk protection order or “red-flag” bill, a measure that could lead to the confiscation of weapons, because it doesn’t go far enough in providing the constitutional right of due process. 

Lee floated the idea in April but couldn’t draw enough support for a House or Senate sponsor before the General Assembly adjourned the regular session.

Sen. Ferrell Haile says he won’t support Gov. Bill Lee’s call for an extreme order of protection but is working on an acceptable solution that can garner Republican vote; Sen. Adam Lowe said that without an official call for the special session, discussion of legislation is essentially moot.

The National Rifle Association is calling for legislation, Haile said, that will “take care of the individual, take them out of the equation, not take everybody else’s gun out of the equation that’s not involved in this, and that’s protecting the Second Amendment.”

Haile said he isn’t working directly with the NRA but is discussing the matter with the organization and “listening to their requests” or public comments.

The Associated Press reported Lee’s office accused the NRA of trying to invoke involuntary commitment laws “to round up mentally ill people and deprive them of other liberties,” based on documents obtained in a public records request. Previously, the governor had the NRA’s support in his push for a permit-less carry law.

Two weeks ago, Lee said he is talking to lawmakers and sticking with his original proposal, which contains a process for a due process hearing to confiscate weapons from people considered a risk to themselves and others.

Haile said Tuesday he doesn’t see enough support within the Republican-controlled Senate to pass it. The senator added, however, that “doing nothing is not an option.” 

Other lawmakers have urged the governor to cancel the special session, while some appear ready to exit the session without passing anything.

The governor has said he would issue an official call for the special session closer to Aug. 21 specifying the matters to be considered. He has been lobbying lawmakers but hasn’t made much headway with Republicans.

Republican Sen. Adam Lowe of Calhoun said recently lawmakers are in the position of saving that date “on the refrigerator” without an official call.

Lowe noted it’s difficult to put together a plan without direction, and he added that some lawmakers have turned their attention to the 2024 session when their proposals can go through the regular committee system.

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