Republican Tennessee Governor Spars With National Rifle Association in Fight for Tougher Gun Restrictions

Gun Rights

The conservative governor of the Volunteer State, Bill Lee, is taking on the National Rifle Association as he and his allies push for greater gun restrictions in the wake of the Covenant School shooting at Nashville earlier this year. 

According to a memo received by the Associated Press as a part of a public records request, Mr. Lee and his staff are accusing the NRA of wanting “to round up mentally ill people and deprive them of other liberties” rather than work on gun control reforms that would allegedly help prevent school shootings in the future by temporarily seizing weapons from the unwell and providing them with strong due process protections. 

The NRA — in opposing Mr. Lee’s limited reforms and endorsing “involuntary commitment” to hospitals for the mentally ill — is promoting “a serious infringement of the Second Amendment.”

“The improved Order of Protection proposal focuses on individuals with mental health issues who intend to harm themselves or others and provides them with greater due process protections,” the memo says of the governor’s proposal. “Rather than institutionalizing someone and limiting their gun rights for life,” as the NRA proposal would, “the improved Order of Protection proposal would temporarily remove a firearm from a dangerous person.”

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Mr. Lee’s proposed changes to the state’s protective order framework — also known as a “red flag law” — would allow law enforcement to temporarily seize an individual’s firearms should that person threaten to commit violence in public spaces. Currently, the protective order only applies to domestic violence situations, such as a husband threatening to kill his wife or vice-versa. 

Mr. Lee argues that his proposal is not a “red flag law,” but rather “an improvement of the state’s existing order of protection tool.” The proposal would create strong civil liberties protections for gun owners, including expanded access to speedy court hearings related to seizure of firearms, establishing a higher burden of proof, limiting the amount of time of confiscation to 180 days, and punishing false reporting by law enforcement. 

Mr. Lee has alienated himself from the GOP in this fight even as he champions mainline conservative causes. In this situation, he has won the support of the gun control lobby and Democrats in the state legislature. 

The minority leader of the Tennessee house of representatives, Raumesh Akbari, said it feels like she and Mr. Lee are “on the same team” when it comes to gun control. “It has been fascinating to see him break from his caucus, from his party, given that they have not been willing to embrace the possibility of gun safety legislation, especially after what happened at Covenant,” she said.

Gun Owners of America, which Congressman Ron Paul called “the only no-compromise gun lobby,” recently sent its members an email template that they can use to contact their state legislators. 

“Governor Lousy Lee is continuing to push for red flag gun confiscation,” the sample message states. “If Lousy Lee was faithful to his constitutional oath, he would have called a special session to pass real Constitutional Carry.”

Even Republicans in his own state legislature are revolting against this proposal. When Mr. Lee first announced his proposed reforms in April, GOP leadership in the Tennessee legislature abruptly voted to adjourn its session for the year, which forced Mr. Lee to call a special session to tackle the issue. 

The Tennessee house Republican caucus sent out a statement denouncing the proposal on its official Twitter account after Mr. Lee’s announcement. “Any red flag law is a non-starter,” the group wrote. “Our caucus is focused on finding solutions to prevent dangerous individuals from harming the public and preserve the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

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