Gun safety faces tough battle in special legislative session

Published 11:49 am Friday, August 18, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Lawmakers will return to the Tennessee Capitol Monday for a long-awaited special session pitched as a response to the Covenant School shooting earlier this year.
The session follows the March 27 shooting, where three adults and three children were killed by a shooter who fired 126 rounds from a semiautomatic rifle and 26 rounds from a handgun in a matter of minutes inside the Green Hills school.
Legislators will return to the Capitol under a call from Gov. Bill Lee to address mental health and some criminal justice issues. The governor’s proclamation only mentions firearms briefly.
Red flag gun laws face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Tennessee Legislature. Most gun owners, including legislators, claim guns don’t kill, people do. Yet, a firearm will not fire unless someone pulls the trigger. But, once the trigger is pulled, usually someone gets killed, and it happens every day.
The special session is expected to last around a week, but could go on longer.
Gov. Lee has pledged to specifically support mental health reforms, a mental health coverage waiver and promoting safe storage of firearms, though he is blocking any legislation that would implement penalties related to safe storage laws.
“As our nation faces evolving public safety threats, Tennessee remains vigilant and is taking continued action to protect communities while preserving the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” Lee said in a statement.
“In the months leading up to the public safety special session, we have listened to Tennesseans and worked with members of the General Assembly to identify thoughtful, practical measures to strengthen public safety across our state, including steps to support law enforcement, address mental health, prevent violent crime and stop human trafficking. I thank the General Assembly for its continued partnership and look forward to achieving meaningful results for Tennesseans.”
Lee’s administrative package includes:
– Codifying his executive order dealing with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and background checks. The proposal requires reporting of accurate, complete and timely records from court clerks to the TBI within 72 hours and requires electronic submissions of dispositions and expungements to the TBI.
– A TennCare mental health coverage waiver to allow federal matching funds for Medicaid to cover mental health and substance abuse services;
– Budget initiatives prioritizing hiring and retaining mental health professionals in the state;
– Eliminating certain practice requirements for psychiatric nurse training to expand access to mental health treatment;
– Greenlighting DNA collection at the time of arrest for felony crimes;
– Directing TBI to report on the state of human trafficking in Tennessee;
– Eliminating taxes on firearm safes and other safe storage initiatives.
Very few of these measures if any address gun reform in Tennessee and are not going to stop shootings in any public venue.
As one lawmaker said, “The number of firearms in our state is staggering and has been since we passed the open carry and guns in trunks laws. But simply focusing on safe storage alone does not truly solve the problems we face in this state and that our constituents were begging us to debate after the Covenant school shooting in Nashville and the Prive restaurant shooting in Memphis this past March.”
It seems as though the governor has backed down since first calling for the special session. The winners here are special interests and extremist legislators.
The overall call for the special session includes only two items that directly address firearms, with Lee specifically blocking any legislation that creates penalties for “failing to safely store firearms.”
Covenant families and connected advocates have been lobbying lawmakers over the summer, with a number of grassroots community groups backing a combination of extreme risk, safe gun storage and additional background check laws.
Most expect little to come out of the special session which will cause gun safety to change in the state.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox