Tennessee moves to shield gun firms after school shooting

Published 3:02 pm Thursday, April 20, 2023

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From Staff Reports
Following a deadly school shooting last month, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee have passed a proposal that would protect gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits.
The Senate’s 19-9 vote sends the bill to Republican Gov. Bill Lee, despite pushback from Democratic lawmakers saying their GOP counterparts are trying to shield gun companies just weeks after the Nashville school shooting that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds.The final vote came as Lee’s administration was still trying to drum up enough support among lawmakers in his party to pass legislation to keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others. The fate of that kind of measure remains uncertain.
Lawmakers are hurrying to finish a legislative session as soon as this week while receiving national scrutiny over the expulsion of two young Black lawmakers — who are now reinstated — over a House floor gun control protest. Students, parents and others have also applied pressure for weeks to pass gun safety measures.
The bill’s sponsor, Joey Hensley, said his legislation doesn’t prevent any other proposal from passing. “This is just to try to help businesses in this state that have chosen to come here, to give them a little civil liability,” Hensley said.
The firearm industry remains largely shielded from liability under federal law. Seventeen states do not have special immunity for the gun industry, and Tennessee is already not among them, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group.
Last year, Remington, the company that made the rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, settled with the families of those killed in the shooting for $73 million. The families had accused the company of targeting younger, at-risk males in advertising and product placement in violent video games.
In February, families of those killed and injured in a 2018 Texas high school shooting settled a lawsuit they filed against a Tennessee-based online retailer, Lucky Gunner, that was accused of illegally selling ammunition to the student who authorities say fatally shot 10 people.
“There are people that we should be going out of our way to protect this week,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said. “And we’ve been receiving emails and calls, people are holding up signs, telling us to go out of our way to help those people. Not one of those signs says to protect the gun manufacturers.”
London Lamar, a Memphis lawmaker, said it’s “disrespectful timing” to push through protections for gun companies while people continue to march at the Capitol for gun control changes.
“I am challenging you not to pass this bill because we need to do more to protect citizens from gun violence than the people making the guns that people can use to kill more people,” Lamar said.
Earlier this week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee called on the Tennessee General Assembly to pass legislation for a new ‘Order of Protection’ law before the end of the legislative session to strengthen the safety and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. This bill, which was drafted with input from legislative leadership, the Governor’s office and relevant departments, will improve Tennessee’s existing “Order of Protection” framework. By guaranteeing due process and enhancing access to mental health support, this proposal is the best way to help individuals who intend to harm themselves or others, protect constitutional rights and keep our communities safe.
Following the tragic Covenant shooting, the Governor asked the legislature to bring forward proposals to ensure dangerous individuals who are a threat to themselves or others do not have access to weapons, while requiring due process and a high burden of proof to preserve the Second Amendment.
“Tennesseans are asking us to set aside politics and personal pride. They are depending on us to do the right thing,” the governor said in asking the legislature to pass the Order of Protection Law.

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