Whip list: Here’s who supports, opposes Gov. Lee’s gun proposal

Gun Rights

Only seven state lawmakers publicly support a controversial proposal from Gov. Bill Lee to remove guns from those who pose a threat to themselves or others, a proposal the Republican governor plans to push forward during a special legislative session next month.

Lee has repeatedly said he plans to move forward with his proposal, first made during the waning hours of the regular legislative session in April, when he calls lawmakers back for a public safety-focused special session on Aug. 21.

Within hours of his proposal, Republicans bristled at the governor’s timing, as he called for a vote less than 72 hours before the Tennessee General Assembly was set to adjourn. 

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But now, after having months to review, digest, and discuss the plan at length with the governor, it seems opposition to the measure has only grown. 

Update: Despite opposition, Gov. Lee keeps hope in gun proposal, bills to ‘make Tennessee safer’

For this story, The Tennessean reached out to all 132 lawmakers on whether they support, oppose, or will wait to hear testimony on Lee’s proposal, as circulated in April. The Tennessean also identified other public statements made by members on the proposal.

Only seven members were willing to publicly share support.

Twenty-eight members — nine senators and 19 representatives — publicly oppose the policy, including almost all of the highest ranking members of the governor’s own party. 

“I wouldn’t vote for it,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, told The Tennessean. “I don’t see it getting out of committee in the House.” 

While Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, has supported the governor’s proposal from the beginning, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, does not. 

“As proposed, I cannot support the Governor’s legislation,” Haile told The Tennessean in an email. “Any measure that takes away citizens’ firearms without due process is a nonstarter for me because it violates the Constitution.”

Haile is working on alternative legislation that has the support of the National Rifle Association. 

Other top-ranking members of House and Senate leadership have also publicly opposed Lee’s proposal, including Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, Senate Republican Caucus Chair Ken Yager, R-Kingston, and House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville. 

“If it is like what he put out in the waning days of session — I don’t know if that’s been tweaked — but anything of that form, I don’t see that that’s going to have support from the caucus if it’s going to be anything similar to what he proposed,” Garrett told The Tennessean.  

It is unclear whether Lee has identified a sponsor to carry the bill in the Senate. Typically, leadership or relevant committee chairs sponsor bills brought and backed by the administration. That is not the case here. 

“I voted against the only red flag law that was proposed this year in the delayed bills committee and will do so again if a similar bill is filed during the Special Session,” Lamberth said. 

The governor has adamantly opposed describing his proposal as a “red-flag” law, saying it differs from other states and the term has become politically toxic.

More than 10 members have publicly committed to the Tennessee Firearms Association that they do not intend to support the proposal. 

Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, has declared it “dead on arrival,” while Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, has said it’s “a nonstarter,” and Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, said so-called red flag laws are “a Trojan horse for the left to intentionally violate our constitutionally protected rights.” 

“I think the constitution is clear. And I think such moves would clearly violate our constitution,” said Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston.

Support from Shelby County

Of the seven members who publicly support Lee’s proposal, five are from Shelby County – including both House Minority Leader Karen Camper, D-Memphis and Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, who has said Lee’s proposal “had some teeth in it.” 

Reps. John Gillespie and Mark White, both from Shelby County, voiced support for Lee’s proposal shortly after it was announced. Others agree — but are skeptical that the bill will ever get to them for a vote. 

“I will likely vote yes if this is offered in the August special session. I do not expect it to come to a vote,” Rep. Dwayne Thompson, D-Cordova, told The Tennessean. “If it does, it will not likely pass. The gun lobbyists have done their job in turning most Republican legislators against anything meaningful while downplaying popular support for a red flag law or any reasonable facsimile.”

Rep. Anthony Davis, D-Nashville — who is serving an interim appointment to the legislature to fill the vacancy left by the late Rep. Bill Beck — more recently voiced his support. 

“I am ready and willing to do the hard work of standing up to the NRA and other pro-gun special interests to protect our kids from future school shootings,” Davis said. 

Some want to deliberate

A handful of members have indicated that they plan to hear testimony and discussion on the proposal, including Reps. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, and Sens. Art Swann, R-Maryville and Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville.

“I believe the Governor’s proposal is reasonable and has merit,” Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, told The Tennessean in an email. “Rather than a blanket endorsement, I plan to listen to the discussion and witnesses in committee before making any commitment.”

Others are more skeptical, like Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, who says he’ll hear testimony, but “as it was first proposed, my constituents were not in favor and asked me to vote no.” 

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, said he does “not believe there is any need for us to return for a special session” a sentiment shared by many Republicans, including Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge. 

“The governor has not yet issued a call for an extraordinary session. By Tennessee’s Constitution, he must specify the purpose and limits on such a session,” Ragan told The Tennessean in an email. “Without such, no legislation can be filed or considered.”

Changes possible

It’s possible that the governor will back an emergency protective order bill that looks quite different than the one he rolled out in April. 

“From my talks with the gov, there are significant changes in his original legislation,” House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, said. “We will have to wait and see what the final language is.”

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said she’ll wait to see if the policy is too watered down to support. 

“I don’t make decisions on legislation until I have been able to fully deliberate on the merits of the legislation,” Johnson told The Tennessean in a text message. “I’m eager to hear legislation that will keep our communities safer, but that legislation will have to have ‘teeth,’ or the ability to ensure community safety.” 

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, shared Johnson’s sentiments, and skepticism. 

“I do and will support a well-drafted temporary removal law that contains substantive language sufficient to successfully achieve what I presume to be our mutual aim — to effectively prevent individuals who should not have access to firearms from harming themselves and others,” Clemmons said told The Tennessean in a text message – but also indicated that the governor declined to share details of his proposal yet. 

Here’s a list of the 45 lawmakers who have publicly committed to support, oppose, or wait for bill text or testimony on Lee’s proposal made in April. The remaining members did not respond to requests for comment.

Support Lee’s ERPO proposal, as proposed in April (7)

Oppose Lee’s ERPO proposal, as proposed in April (28)

Will wait to see final bill text and/or hear testimony – too early to say (10)

  • House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby
  • Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport
  • Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna
  • Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro
  • Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge  
  • Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville 
  • Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville
  • Sen. Art Swann, R-Maryville 
  • Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville 
  • Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol

Reach reporter Vivian Jones at vjones@tennessean.com

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