Gov. Lee urges lawmakers to put ‘pride,’ ‘politics’ aside, pass stricter gun laws

Lee wants to strengthen gun laws, while “preserving the constitutional rights of the people of our state,” he said.
Gov. Bill Lee
Gov. Bill Lee(WSMV)
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 11:51 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 11, 2023 at 2:47 PM EDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday said he would be asking lawmakers to bring forward measures to make it harder for people who are a threat to themselves or others to get weapons.

Lee announced the call for stricter gun laws while visiting the Metro Nashville Police Department Midtown Hills precinct. Many of the officers at that precinct were the first to respond to The Covenant School shooting more than two weeks ago.

“We can all agree that it is possible, and it is important that we find a way to remove individuals who are a threat to themselves or to our society – to remove them from access to weapons. I’m asking the legislature to bring forth thoughtful, practical measures to do that,” Lee said. “To strengthen our laws – to separate those dangerous people from firearms, while at the same time preserving the constitutional rights of the people of this state.”

Gov. Bill Lee visits MNPD's Midtown Hills precinct.

After the shooting, Lee pushed school safety legislation to put armed guards at all schools in Tennessee. He said lawmakers need to go a step further. Lee signed an executive order Tuesday regarding strengthening background checks. It requires the Tennessee Instant Check System (TICS), used to conduct background checks, to ensure all relevant information regarding criminal history and mental health is entered and reported to the TBI within 72 hours of an entity’s receipt of information. The TBI is also now required to take a closer look at the current process for buying a gun and try to find ways to make sharing important information quickly.

“The past two weeks have not only challenged those who were involved in this from a law enforcement standpoint, it’s challenged every Tennessean. The tragedy, the struggle, my family included; everyone’s family. Six innocent lives lost – three of them are children. It has certainly been a stark reminder to all of us about what really matters,” Lee said. “I’ve said before that when we are in a situation like that, the truth is we’re facing evil itself. And we can’t stop evil, but we can do something. And when there’s a clear need for action, I think that we have an obligation and I certainly do to remind people that we should set aside politics and pride and accomplish something that the people of Tennessee want us to get accomplished. It’s been an emotionally charged couple of weeks. But we have to stay focused on the path forward.”

House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally are both willing to work on solutions.

“We all appreciate Gov. Lee’s leadership and his commitment to finding solutions to stop tragedies like the Covenant School shooting from two weeks ago. As we look at mental health orders of protection, they must have a level of due process, protections from fraudulent claims, and a quick judicial hearing for individuals who pose imminent threats,” Sexton said in a statement. “The House is willing to work toward bipartisan solutions to protect all children at their schools, in their communities, and inside their homes.”

“I support the second amendment unequivocally and believe that a law-abiding, armed citizenry is the greatest defense against criminality and tyranny. But I also believe we must take steps to ensure those experiencing mental health crises do not have access to weapons that can be used in mass casualty events,” McNally said in a statement. “I have been open to discussing emergency mental health protection orders in Tennessee and continue to be. Any such order process must be tightly constructed with sufficient due process and protection against false or fraudulent reporting. I believe it is possible to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners while keeping guns out of the hands of people experiencing severe mental health crises. I am looking forward to continuing to work with Governor Lee and my colleagues in the General Assembly towards this goal.”

Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, issued a statement Tuesday urging the Republican supermajority to take up Lee’s call for gun reform.

“In this moment, our families deserve action to stop future gun violence. The governor is right to make this a priority before session ends,” Akbari said. “Our caucus announced last week five common sense reforms to reduce gun violence, including expanded background checks and an extreme risk protection order law. When done right, these are smart and effective solutions to keep kids and families safe.

“We are ready to work with the governor and we urge our Republican colleagues in the legislature to move quickly to put gun reform legislation on his desk.”