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Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee has called a special session to deal with “public safety” as Democrats in the state push for more gun control.
The August 21 special session will come months after a transgender-identifying shooter killed six people at The Covenant School in Nashville, and Lee has advocated for a variation of a red flag law. In his proclamation this week, Lee said that the session would deal with issues of mental health, gun storage guidelines, human trafficking, and “temporary mental health orders of protection.”
“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.
Republican leadership in the legislature has largely opposed any consideration of potential red flag legislation, while Lee’s office has said his proposal shouldn’t be considered a red flag proposal.
“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,” Press Secretary Jade Byers told The Daily Wire in June.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, both Republicans, have indicated that any red flag-style legislation would be a non-starter.
“From a philosophical standpoint, I have always opposed what is commonly referred to as a red flag, order of protection bill, again, because I deem them to be ineffective,” Johnson said. “Certainly in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, known as the Bruen decision, I think they are constitutionally suspect at best, blatantly unconstitutional at worst.”
“As far as the enhanced orders of protection, red flag laws, yeah, you’re not going to see us go down that road,” Sexton said on Tuesday.
Some Republicans have urged the release of the manifesto from The Covenant School shooter before the special session, while the Tennessee Executive Republican Committee has said that the session should be canceled.
The announcement comes as Democrats in the state take a bus tour to talk about gun violence, making its final stop in Nashville as the session begins.
“Since Republicans gained controlling power, the Tennessee General Assembly has loosened gun laws and abolished common sense gun safety reforms, such as mandatory gun safety classes and background checks for going armed, gun permits, and restrictions on carrying in many public places,” a press release from the Democratic Senate caucus said.
Conservative groups in the state have vocally opposed any move toward red flag laws.
“Governor Lee’s proclamation makes it abundantly clear that he is on board with the long standing calls from notable Democrats like Justin Jones and Joe Biden to enact gun control in Tennessee,” John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association wrote. “Rather than just being candid and stating he wants a Red Flag law, Bill Lee urges for the passage of a ‘temporary mental health order of protection’ as he did in April 2023 shortly after the Covenant School murders.”
The Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative policy and advocacy group, has previously urged Lee to cancel the special session and has vocally opposed red flag laws. In a statement following Lee’s proclamation, they pointed to aspects of the proclamation that would deal with human trafficking.
“As we’ve noted before, while noting certain areas of disagreement on certain other issues, we’ve had very productive meetings with Governor Lee and his staff on this issue, making a mutual commitment to work together in the furtherance of destroying child and human trafficking,” a statement from the group said.