Draft legislation made public Wednesday seeks to expand Tennessee’s order of protection law, which can separate dangerous people from guns.
The proposal is Gov. Bill Lee’s response to the mass shooting at the Covenant School last month, which left six students and staff dead.
It also arrives in what’s expected to be a whirlwind final week of the legislative session in which Republicans — under intense scrutiny following the expulsion of two young, Black lawmakers — are eager to return to their districts.
More: Read the full text of the draft legislation (PDF).
The bill’s language doesn’t go as far as some extreme risk protection orders, also called “red flag” laws.
As written, it would operate like this: Someone could report a person as armed and dangerous to themselves or others.
Then, within three to five days of the petition being filed, there would be a hearing where gun owners would have an opportunity to defend themselves. This aspect of Lee’s proposal was important for Republicans who raised concerns that someones gun might be taken away without due process.
Then, if the court ordered it, that person would give up their guns temporarily within 48 hours. They’d fill out an affidavit saying they gave up their guns, and there would be a follow-up hearing if they failed to turn in that form.
This expanded version of Tennessee’s current law still allows someone to give their guns to a third party, like a friend or a relative — a dangerous loophole that lets guns slip through the cracks.
But, the proposal also makes it a felony if the person in possession of the guns gives them back to the subject of the order of protection.
In a taped video message, Lee called on legislators to set aside politics and pass the measure.
“We have a proven solution that gets to the heart of the problem — an improved Order of Protection law to save lives and preserve the Second Amendment. This is a pivotal moment. But both sides are at risk of standing in the way of a thoughtful, practical solution,” said Lee.
But the Republican governor has his work cut out for him. The Tennessee Firearms Association issued a statement almost immediately slamming Lee’s proposal.
“The proposed amendment …. does not indicate which bills are being amended, who the sponsors are, when the bill would be heard in a committee, or give anyone outside of government the opportunity to review, comment on or oppose the legislation,” said Executive Director John Harris in a statement. “It is the typical move of a tyrant.”
The NRA has also been encouraging its members to call legislators to oppose any measure resembling a red flag law.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton has yet to endorse the legislation, issuing a tepid statement acknowledging “conversations will continue” between Lee’s administration and lawmakers.
Thus far, Senate Speaker Randy McNally is the only member of the GOP to publicly back Lee’s plan.
“Law-abiding gun owners make our society safer and serve as a check against tyranny. Those rights and that freedom is put in danger when those who should not have access to firearms use them to murder our citizens,” McNally said in a statement. “Making sure the mentally ill and those in crisis do not have access to firearms while protecting the second amendment rights of everyone else is no easy task. It is an extremely delicate balance. I believe that balance has been struck.”
Democrats in the House, however, think the measure doesn’t go far enough.
“Lee has unsurprisingly handed us a watered-down bill,” said Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville. “It reads as if he is more concerned about getting all 75 Republicans’ votes on a bill than effectively protecting children and Tennessee families from gun violence.”
Protecting gunmakers from lawsuits
Republicans are considering some other gun-related measures, not all of which address gun violence.
Earlier, the Senate passed legislation preventing people from taking legal action against a firearms dealer or manufacturer in civil liability cases.
The legislation cleared the Senate without any Democratic support, with Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, calling it “troubling and disturbing.”
“There are people we ought to be going out of our way to protect this week,” he said. “People are holding up signs telling us to help those people. Not one of those signs says to protect the gun manufacturers.”
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