Conservative state lawmakers across the country on Wednesday slammed Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee, saying he is pressuring the GOP-led state to adopt a “red flag” law by dragging lawmakers back to the Capitol for a “special session” after they ended their regular session without passing a gun bill.
The chairmen of all 11 chapters of the State Freedom Caucus Network, representing states such as Arizona, Idaho, Mississippi, and Montana, wrote that “Republicans in Tennessee already correctly rejected gun control legislation during their session and the Executive branch should respect those decisions made on behalf of their constituents.”
The out-of-state lawmakers were writing to support four Tennessee Republicans, led by Rep. Bryan Richey, who this week called on Lee to abandon the special session, which would start August 21.
“It is true that the Governor has the constitutional prerogative to call a special session. It is in our view wholly inappropriate to do so when the legislature, which has a supermajority of Members of the same political party as the Governor, has voted to adjourn,” they wrote.
“Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson has flatly stated that ‘the Tennessee General Assembly will not pass any red flag law, period.’ Accordingly, your proposed special session, apparently calculated to pressure legislators to pass such a law, strikes us as an expensive, disruptive, futile, and counter-productive publicity stunt,” the letter continued.
The lawmakers said the session would simply provide a forum for Left-wing activists to continue their disruption of the legislature. “Press reports indicate that left-wing activists are planning to use the proposed special session to state disruptive protests that will make the ‘Tennessee Three’ circus look like a dress rehearsal,” they said. “Why would you want to provide a platform for such political theatre?”
Some Republicans have said that something has to be done following the Covenant School shooting, where a gunwoman who identified as transgender killed three children and three adults.
But “the Covenant tragedy would not have been averted by a ‘red flag’ law,” the letter said.
Conservatives said that the FBI and police’s concealment of the shooter’s manifesto has deprived lawmakers of knowing facts about the shooting necessary to craft a legislative solution.
Nashville Police Chief John Drake last month reneged on a promise he made to Lee to release the records “very soon,” with the police department claiming it could not release the documents because it was being sued for not releasing them.
John I. Harris III, the president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, previously told The Daily Wire that mental illness could be the cause of the shooting, but it could also be political terrorism committed by a sane person committed to an ideology.
“We’ve already seen three bills, a Democrat red flag bill that’s draconian, one the governor filed that we think is unconstitutional, and a third one that says if you’re taking a prescription for these ten medications, you can’t get the medications unless you sign a waiver saying you can’t purchase firearms,” Harris said.
But the actual cause of the shooting could be more definitively known if police would simply release records, Harris said.
In a blog post, Harris wrote that he had heard that Lee was “‘inviting’ legislators individually or in small groups to come meet with him” and that they could be told that they “might see their districts miss out on funding or improvements that the governor or the administration has the ability to control like grants, road projects, etc.” if they do not support his aims for the legislative session. But ultimately, any bills sponsored will have individual legislators’ names on them, he said, noting that “next year, 2024, is an election year.”
Jade Byers, a spokeswoman for Lee, told The Daily Wire that “the Governor does not support red flag laws. His proposal is different from any law across the country and would strengthen Tennessee’s existing mental health order of protection law by supporting law enforcement, ensuring due process, requiring a high burden of proof, and strengthening mental health support.”
“We worked with the General Assembly to call a special session focused on ensuring public safety and preserving constitutional rights, and the Governor looks forward to discussing thoughtful proposals with lawmakers this August,” she said.
Lee said in a statement announcing the special session that “There is broad agreement that action is needed, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to listen to Tennesseans and pursue thoughtful, practical measures that strengthen the safety of Tennesseans, preserve Second Amendment rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health.”
The State Freedom Caucus Network argues that states with Republican supermajorities have frequently had leaders that, unbeknownst to most voters, often capitulate to the Left. A Daily Wire analysis found that the more Republicans a state had in its legislature, the more moderate those Republicans tended to act.
Andy Roth, the head of the Network, told The Daily Wire, “It’s unacceptable for any Republican to propose red flag laws, let alone in a conservative state like Tennessee.”
This story was updated to include a comment from Gov. Lee.