Tennessee will not implement the temporary gun confiscation proposal for individuals a judge finds are a threat that Republican Governor Bill Lee backed in the wake of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville.
The special session Lee called to address the mass shooting that saw a lone shooter murder three children and three adults murdered adjourned on Tuesday. The Republican-controlled legislature passed a package aimed at stopping future attacks, especially on schools. But Lee’s “Order of Protection” plan, a proposal similar to so-called Red Flag laws, didn’t make the cut.
Instead, the deal focused on more modest reforms. It provided $16 million in grants for mental health and addiction services, made minor changes to how the state reports information to the background check system, authorized $1.1 million for a new gun safety advertising campaign, and ordered the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to produce a report on human trafficking.
The resounding failure of Lee’s push for a modified “Red Flag” law demonstrates how little appetite there is in a Red state like Tennessee for the gun restriction that has seen success in Blue and even Purple states in the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting. It signals the policy, which has been adopted in 19 states, may have hit the ceiling for where it is politically viable–at least in the near term. That’s especially true given how poorly Lee’s effort to back the proposal went, with him abandoning the idea before the session even began.
Lee had initially made a public effort to get the proposal through the legislature before the end of its regular session.
“Throughout the last couple of weeks, I have worked with members of the General Assembly – constitutionally minded, Second Amendment protecting members – to craft legislation for an improved Order of Protection Law that will strengthen the safety and preserve the rights of Tennesseans,” he said in April. “We all agree that dangerous, unstable individuals who intend to harm themselves or others should not have access to weapons. And that should be done in a way that requires due process and a high burden of proof, supports law enforcement and punishes false reporting, enhances mental health support, and preserves the Second Amendment for law-abiding citizens.”
He then pivoted to calling for a special session specifically to develop proposals, like the “Red Flag” order, to prevent future attacks like the one on the Covenant School. He repeatedly emphasized that his proposal addresses some common complaints that such laws disregard important due process protections. But, as the session approached, Lee waivered. He dropped the “Red Flag” provision in his recommendations for the legislature.
Governor Lee praised the deal the legislature was able to pass as representing a step forward.
“It’s good when we make progress of any kind, and we have made progress, and we will continue to make progress,” he told The Tennessean.
But the result left pretty much everyone unhappy.
“I’m very disappointed that we didn’t get more done in this special session,” House Majority Leader William Lamberth said. “In the House, we had a lot of bills that got left on the table that I hope will still be taken back up in January to help families in Tennessee be safer.”
“It’s been a complete waste of time, it’s been a waste of taxpayer money,” House Minority Leader Karen Camper told the paper. “People expected us to do something to make the public safer. We did nothing.”
And some blamed Lee specifically for the outcome.
“He had an opportunity to actually get something done — but he didn’t do that,” Camper said. “No one has seen him! He is nowhere! This Governor failed to get something done — he has a responsibility to his people and we have to hold him accountable.”