Most Tennesseans want authorities to focus on arresting dangerous people rather than confiscating weapons from those deemed mentally ill, according to a new poll that comes as Republican Governor Bill Lee pushes for a variation of a red flag law following the Covenant School shooting.
Two-thirds of those surveyed want current laws to be enforced to remove dangerous people from the public “rather than passing new ones that would leave them in the neighborhood,” according to a co/efficient poll shared exclusively with The Daily Wire. Lee has called for a special session in August to pass the gun legislation, sparking debate within the Tennessee GOP, which is largely made up of staunch pro-Second Amendment conservatives. Lee’s office attempted to assuage conservative fears, telling The Daily Wire that the governor’s proposal is different from red flag laws passed by other states.
“To be clear, the Governor does not support red flag laws. His proposal is different from any law across the country – it would strengthen Tennessee’s existing law around the order of protection process for cases of domestic violence and enhance support for law enforcement, ensure due process, require the highest burden of proof, and boost mental health support,” said Press Secretary Jade Byers.
The co/efficient survey, conducted between May 30 and June 1, gathered data from 1,770 likely general election voters. According to the poll, Lee gained support among voters when he signed a bill into law requiring an armed security officer at every Tennessee public school — 77% of those surveyed supported the move.
“It’s important to note that this proposal is just one part of the ongoing, larger conversation with legislators about a number of proposals to strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights,” Byers added. “The Governor will continue to work with the General Assembly to secure schools and protect communities, just like we did with our strong school safety package this year, which included more than $230 million to” various school security and mental health resources.
The Republican governor’s push for more school security and an “order of protection” law comes in the wake of a shooter murdering three students and three adults at The Covenant School in Nashville on March 27. The 28-year-old trans-identifying shooter was receiving treatment for an “emotional disorder,” according to Nashville police, and her parents did not want her to own guns.
Red flag laws, also called “extreme risk protection” laws, are in effect in 19 states — including in Republican-led Indiana and Florida. The controversial laws specifically target those deemed to have mental health issues and allow a state court to issue an order for law enforcement to confiscate weapons from those ruled to be at risk.
Opponents of red flag laws argue that they pose a threat to Second Amendment rights and due process, and do not prevent criminal acts. Lee’s proposal is slightly different as it requires a hearing where a person can offer a defense before a judge would be allowed to order authorities to confiscate weapons, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Before ordering that a person’s guns be taken away, a judge would have to see proof of “mental illness, serious behavioral condition or serious emotional disturbance.”
When first surveyed, 62% of Tennessee voters backed a red flag law, but that support dropped to just 41% after the survey explained that the law confiscates firearms of those deemed to have a mental illness but “leaves threatening individuals in the community.” Thirty-seven percent said they oppose a red flag law and 22% are unsure.
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton told The Daily Wire that he is currently working to prepare for the special session, emphasizing that he wants to focus on re-examining existing laws.
“I do not support red flag laws,” Sexton said. “I have been working with stakeholders, the medical community, law enforcement, and the judicial system in preparation for the special session. We have existing laws in code that can be used; we must re-examine how they are or are not working, revise them if necessary, and close any existing loopholes.”