Friday, July 28, 2023

Uncertainty Surrounds Tennessee Governor's Gun Control Proposal Support: Will it Secure Majority Votes?

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)

Gov. Bill Lee remained noncommittal on Friday regarding the support his plan to restrict firearms for individuals deemed dangerous is receiving within the Republican-heavy Tennessee Statehouse, with a critical special legislative session looming on the horizon.

Legislators are anticipated to reconvene in Nashville in approximately three weeks. Their return has been spurred by a push to reevaluate the state's firearms laws, a movement invigorated after a devastating event where a gunman targeted a Nashville elementary school, leading to the loss of six lives, among them three 9-year-olds. 

Families severely impacted by this tragedy have passionately argued for stricter controls on firearms accessibility. However, their pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears as Republican lawmakers continue to show reticence towards pro-gun control measures.

Back in May, Lee announced his decision to call a special session after his fellow Republican legislators displayed initial reluctance to consider his proposal aimed at limiting access to firearms for potentially harmful individuals.

Since his announcement, the Governor declared on Friday that he has engaged with "hundreds of individuals", reviewing not only his own plan but also other proposals focusing on mental health, violent crime, and juvenile justice. These issues are also set to be discussed during the special session. His office has been inundated with public comments, predominantly backing some form of gun control legislation. 

"I am really inspired by the General Assembly members' proactive approach, bringing forth ideas to ensure a productive session that enhances Tennessee's safety," remarked Lee.

However, the Governor stopped short of speculating on the fate of his proposal within the Republican majority and sidestepped questions regarding the sponsorship of his legislation.

“Upon introducing legislation, the hope is, of course, that it gets passed," Lee said. "But the decision lies with the General Assembly."

Governor Lee has been actively promoting "temporary mental health orders of protection", insisting it is not akin to the contentious 'red flag' law, a term he views as a politically charged misnomer.

To date, red flag laws have been enacted in 19 states, often as a response to tragic incidents. For instance, Florida implemented such a law following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, resulting in the death of 17 students. Law enforcement officials had received multiple warnings regarding the 19-year-old shooter's threatening behavior.

These laws, which allow courts to issue extreme risk protection orders, are designed to temporarily disarm individuals demonstrating potentially violent tendencies, typically for a year. In most cases, a family member or law enforcement officer must petition the court for the order. Under Governor Lee's proposal, law enforcement would initially evaluate whether an individual poses a threat. Subsequently, a hearing involving the person would generally be scheduled within three to five days. The judge would then determine whether to temporarily dispossess them of their weapons. If the decision is in favor, the person would be required to hand over their firearms and ammunition to a designated third party within two days. Moreover, their handgun carry license would be suspended within three business days. These measures would remain in effect for up to 180 days.

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