With the Legislature set to adjourn for the year, Gov. Bill Lee is making a last-minute pitch for a temporary “order of protection” designed to avert mass shootings such as the one that killed six people at The Covenant School.
Lee issued a public statement Wednesday asking the Legislature to pass a bill guaranteeing due process and improving access to mental health support while allowing police to confiscate weapons from dangerous, unstable people for up to 180 days.
“… 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,” Lee said in a video statement.
The bill, whose sponsor is unknown, would create a petition for a temporary mental health order of protection claiming the person poses a “substantial likelihood of serious harm by having a firearm or any ammunition” in the person’s possession.
The legislation, which has no sponsor or bill number, could face its toughest path in the House where Speaker Cameron Sexton is holding back support.
“We recently received Gov. Lee’s proposed language. As we have said from the beginning, we are working with his administration and the Senate to find the best path forward to protect Tennessee children. These conversations will continue as we await more direction from the administration on which bill is sufficient to accomplish his goal,” Sexton said in a statement.
The measure isn’t expected to have full support from Republican lawmakers who hold a supermajority and are hesitant to balk at a request by the National Rifle Association to oppose any sort of “order of protection” bill or a “red flag” law.
A court would order a hearing within three to five days and issue a notice to hear from the person, who could hire an attorney or receive one by appointment.
If the court determines the petition is frivolous, it could dismiss the matter without a hearing or mental health evaluation.
Once the court approves the order, the person would be ordered to surrender all guns and ammunition. A hearing could be requested to vacate the order.
Anyone who makes a false complaint to have someone’s weapons confiscated could be charged with felony perjury.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally came out in favor of the legislation Wednesday, but it isn’t expected to have full support from Republican lawmakers who hold a supermajority and are hesitant to balk at a request by the National Rifle Association to oppose any sort of “order of protection” bill or a “red flag” law.
How the Legislature will handle the proposal in the waning days of the session is unclear because it is expected to cost the state money and require budget adjustments.
McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, pointed out Second Amendment rights are God-given and secured by the Constitution. But he noted those are endangered when people use firearms to commit murder.
“Making sure the mentally ill and those in crisis do not have access to firearms while protecting the Second Amendment rights of everyone else is no easy task,” he said in a statement. “It is an extremely delicate balance. I believe that balance has been struck with this proposed temporary mental health order of protection.”
The proposal would not allow an “ex parte” order, meaning the subject of the complaint would have to be notified and have the opportunity to defend themselves using their own attorney or court-appointed counsel, McNally added.
“Most important is the temporary nature of the order. These orders will not be indefinite. When they expire guns are returned and the order cannot be held against the subject in the future,” McNally said, adding he has supported the concept previously and continues to work with the governor on it.
Lee, who signed an executive order last week streamlining background checks for gun purchases, said national politicians and the White House are calling his proposal a “red flag” law, which he contended is “nothing but a toxic political label meant to draw lines in the sand so nothing gets done.”
The governor also noted that some Second Amendment advocates argue that “involuntary commitment” is the solution to stop mass shootings, but he maintained that would restrict constitutional rights.
Lee pointed out state law already allows an order of protection and weapons restrictions on a man who threatens to hurt his wife and argued that his proposal would broaden that law to cover situations in which a person threatens to shoot himself or a church or shopping mall.
“This is a pivotal moment,” Lee said. “Buto both sides are at risk of standing in the way of a thoughtful, practical solution.”
Temporary Mental Health Order of Protection (007924)