Tennessee Governor Moving Ahead With Special Session on Public Safety, Gun Violence

Second Amendment


Despite musings of some political pundits in Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee said his office is moving forward with plans to hold a special session focused on public safety in August.

Mr. Lee announced the special session in April after state legislators failed to take up his proposal for enhancements to the state’s Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws. The governor proposed the changes following the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, in which three children and three adults were killed.

Protests by those calling for stricter gun laws in Tennessee were held for weeks after the Covenant shooting, even leading to two Democrat lawmakers being expelled from the Legislature for protests on the House floor.

Democrats called on the governor to hold the special session after their efforts to get their own bills on the floor of either chamber for debate failed. Republicans said at the time they would be willing to come back for a special session on public safety that did not include stricter gun laws.

The official call for the session, required by statute, has yet to be filed, but the governor’s office told The Epoch Times that the call will come closer to the actual date of the special session, which is set to begin Aug. 21.

Moving Forward

Mr. Lee is doubling down on his commitment to the special session, which he originally said was called so lawmakers could work to “pass legislation that will strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights.”

“Gov. Lee believes the best path forward is practical, thoughtful solutions to keep communities safe and protect constitutional rights, and he looks forward to speaking with key stakeholders, including the NRA, and working with legislators on proposals in the months ahead,” Mr. Lee’s press secretary Jade Byers told The Epoch Times in an email.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters gather inside the Tennessee State Capitol to call for an end to shootings and support more restrictive gun laws in Nashville, Tenn., on March 30, 2023. (Seth Herald/Getty Images)

Mr. Lee has also been meeting with legislators of both parties over the summer, following the end of the legislative session in May, to gather insight on what lawmakers see as legislative priorities during the upcoming special session.

“We worked together with the General Assembly to call a special session to discuss a number of meaningful proposals across various policy areas that will strengthen public safety, preserve constitutional rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health, and the governor looks forward to continuing productive conversations with lawmakers in the months ahead,” Ms. Byers added.

GOP Pushback

Some members of the governor’s party and gun rights groups in the state have pushed back publicly on the governor’s ERPO proposal, equating it to a “red flag” law.

Laws that remove guns from certain individuals due to concerns about mental health or domestic violence are colloquially referred to as red flag laws.

Mr. Lee has maintained that he does not support red flag laws and that his proposal is nothing of the sort. Instead, Mr. Lee explains that his ERPO proposal would ensure adequate due process to ensure there is no violation of Second Amendment rights in Tennessee.

“It falls under a law that I think is appropriate for our state given the circumstances we’re in,” Mr. Lee said at a press conference following the Covenant shooting, in response to a question about whether his proposal should be considered a red flag law.

Leaked Memos Show Dispute with NRA

In private memos that were first reported by The Associated Press and later obtained by The Epoch Times through open records requests, the governor’s talking points were in heavy opposition to the National Rifle Association’s own proposals allegedly being circulated among the state Legislature around the same time.

The governor’s office circulated the documents authored by unnamed officials within Mr. Lee’s administration, which characterized the NRA’s separate proposals as broader and a bigger threat to due process and the Second Amendment.

These memos were created around the time the governor proposed the ERPO law in April and are no longer being used, according to his office.

Epoch Times Photo
Protesters gather inside the Tennessee State Capitol to call for an end to gun violence and support stronger gun laws, in Nashville, Tenn., on March 30, 2023. (Seth Herald/Getty Images)

They show that the governor’s office was at odds with the powerful gun rights group, and it is unclear if any additional proposals have been presented to lawmakers by the NRA.

The governor’s office said it could not provide the proposals circulated by the NRA to lawmakers, and repeated emails to the NRA’s press office went unanswered.

Best Plan for Tennessee

The talking points of the memo show Mr. Lee and his administration are attempting to sell his proposal as “the most conservative in the nation” and the best plan for “conservatives and Second Amendment advocates.”

“This conservative proposal improves Tennessee’s existing temporary order of protection, applying that same domestic violence framework to individuals who are dangerous and mentally unstable, while also enhancing due process protections and Second Amendment rights,” the memo reads.

In particular, the memos show the administration took aim at reported NRA proposals, which the governor’s office claimed restricted “more rights” for a “longer” period of time.

“By proposing only ‘involuntary commitment,’ the NRA wants the government to round up mentally ill people and deprive them of their liberties, including their Second Amendment rights,” the memo stated. “Not only is the NRA’s proposal impractical—it would drastically expand the scope of government.”

Never Supported Red Flag Laws

“Gov. Lee has never proposed or supported so-called red flag laws,” a portion of the memo reads. “Gov. Lee has never used this term, and it should not be used to describe his proposal.”

The memo says the phrase “red flag” is “a toxic political label that overgeneralizes unique state laws in a national political setting.”

The memo also pushes back at President Joe Biden’s praise of Mr. Lee, saying the president’s commendation is “unwelcome and inaccurate.”

“I commend Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for signing an Executive Order to expand background checks and calling on the Tennessee statehouse to pass a red flag law. I hope more Republican officials will follow suit and take action,” Biden said in April.

The memo says Mr. Lee’s proposal is merely one to improve “existing order of protection” tools, which currently only apply to disarm “domestic abusers.”

A final point of the talking points say mass shootings are happening now and orders of protection are needed.

“The Covenant shooter had a mental health issue and was legally allowed to buy multiple guns,” the memo reads. “The current laws for involuntary commitment would not have applied. A targeted order of protection could have given law enforcement the opportunity to keep her from guns until she received the treatment she needed.”



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