Tennessee Republicans Better Not Cave on Gun Rights

(Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal via AP, Pool)

Months after the tragic school shooting at Covenant Christian School in Nashville, Tennessee, the state legislature has started a special session to tackle the issue of gun violence. After Republican Gov. Bill Lee signaled that he would be willing to consider gun control measures to prevent future atrocities, there has been much speculation about how Republicans in the legislature would react and whether the anti-gunner lobby might be able to score even just a small victory during this session.

Ever since the school shooting occurred, Democratic activists and politicians have been sounding the call for more restrictions on gun ownership. It has resulted in numerous demonstrations in the state Capitol building.

It appears the pressure campaign has paid off, somewhat. Lee promised earlier this year to call a special session to deal with guns and now, here we are. But it does not appear that Republican lawmakers are open to the type of restrictions Lee and Democrats are seeking:

So far, the Senate has bills on notification between mental health facilities and local law enforcement related to patient releases, mental health funding for the uninsured, private school handgun carry policy, liability release related to stolen firearms that were properly stored, adding a charge for threatening mass violence and emergency procedures for active shooter situations.

Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, has introduced bills to require an audit of each public school’s safety compliance and allowing handgun carry on school property unless the person knows that an armed security guard is present.

Meanwhile, Senate and House Democrats vowed Friday to introduce universal background checks, a red flag law, safe storage requirements and repealing a guns in trunks law.

“Tennesseans all across this state are calling for common sense gun safety reforms to protect kids by name,” said Sen. London Lamar, the Senate Democratic caucus chairwoman. “We owe the Covenant families and the thousands of Tennesseans who are affected by gun violence a real debate on these life-saving policies.”

In the days leading up to the special session, anti-gunner activists ramped up the pressure, using their platform to rally Tennesseans to speak out in favor of more restrictions. On Saturday, state rep. Justin J. Pearson, who was temporarily ousted from his seat for his participation in a raucous protest in the Capitol building earlier this year, led a demonstration in favor of more gun control:

With the special session just days away, Memphis State Representative Justin J. Pearson is hosting events throughout the weekend in an effort to “protect kids, not guns.”

Rep. Pearson held a rally Saturday morning which several city leaders, community members, and activists attended.

“Nobody deserves to die; nobody deserves to get shot!” LaVonda Thorn-Henderson said.

With tears running down her face, LaVonda Thorn-Henderson shared the story of her son Larry, who was shot & killed back in January.

“We have got to get these guns off the streets,” she said.

She, along with other community leaders including the re-elected District 86 State Representative Justin J. Pearson rallied outside the Shelby County Commission building, demanding safety and security for all of Memphis

“We’re fired up because we are tired,” Rep. Pearson said. We’re tired of the status quo because it’s killing us.”

Since regaining his seat in the House, Rep. Pearson has been relentless in his efforts to get guns off Memphis streets.

Republicans were supportive of Gov. Lee when he called for millions of dollars to be allocated for hardening schools and implementing more robust security measures. A few days later, he also suggested passing an order of protection law that would temporarily prohibit a person's ability to keep and bear arms. He did not gain any support from Republican lawmakers for this proposal. Nevertheless, he has proposed a watered-down version of this idea to be considered during this special session.

So far, all indications suggest that any major gun control legislation would be dead in the water. However, Republicans have pushed potential legislation that would bolster mental health resources while sharpening criminal penalties for threats of mass shootings. 

Given the circumstances surrounding the Nashville shooting, the issue of red flag laws has been a prominent topic of discussion. Audrey Hale, the shooter, had been under a "doctor's care for emotional disorder" according to law enforcement officials. She had been suffering from gender dysphoria and possibly other mental health problems. Her parents believed she should not have been allowed to own firearms, but there were no steps to prohibit her from obtaining them:

In Tennessee, there are limited avenues to preventing those perceived as dangerous to themselves or others from accessing firearms — with the legal frameworks mainly allowing such efforts in domestic violence cases. Some advocates argue that The Covenant School shooting could have been avoided if Tennessee had a so-called red flag law providing for extreme risk protection orders.

In this case, it is abundantly clear that the anti-gunner lobby is using the Nashville shooting to pass more gun control laws that would have done little, if anything, to stop the assault in the first place. As has been the case after other high-profile shootings, they seek to play on people's fear and anger to convince them to accept more restrictions on firearms despite not being able to show how they would save a single life.

In the past, at least some Republicans have caved to this cynical strategy. Last year, Republicans in Congress, led by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) worked with Democrats to pass federal legislation to enact more laws against guns. In other cases, GOP lawmakers have supported red flag laws as well.

So far, it does not seem that Tennessee's Republicans are giving in to the pressure. A few have expressed support for Gov. Lee's idea, but the majority have not. This means that, despite the inevitable attack pieces leveled against them, GOP lawmakers appear to be intent on protecting gun rights. 

However, we should not take this for granted. After all, how often have Republican politicians banged their chests about how pro-gun they are, only to cave to the anti-gunners in the end? At this point, Democrats will try anything to get at least some laws passed, even if they have to make concessions to get squishy Republicans on board. Tennesseans who value their gun rights would be wise to exert some pressure of their own on those representing them. If these lawmakers fear the anti-gunners more than their constituents, this special session might not turn out the way we want.



Trending on RedState Videos