Tenn. lawmakers’ race to adjourn complicates gun safety push

Apr 17, 2023, 3:45 PM

FILE - Tennessee State Troopers block the stairwell leading to the legislative chambers Thursday, A...

FILE - Tennessee State Troopers block the stairwell leading to the legislative chambers Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Two young Black Tennessee state legislatorJustin Pearson and Justin Jones — now widely known simply as "the Justins" — were expelled by the overwhelmingly white, Republican-controlled state Legislature and then reinstated by local officials days later. They are being heralded as living echoes of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, when leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and A. Philip Randolph organized protests across the American South. (AP Photo/George Walker IV, File)

(AP Photo/George Walker IV, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers on Monday kicked off a rushed effort to adjourn by the end of the week, looking for an exit from a session that has been eclipsed by the fallout of the Republican supermajority expelling two young Black Democrats and a growing push to pass some sort of gun restriction legislation.

Just last week, Reps. new front in the battle for the future of American democracy, as well as maintained pressure on lawmakers to address gun control in a state known for its lax firearm regulations.

Last month, six people were gunned down at a Nashville private school — a tragedy which kicked off a stream of calls for changes to Tennessee’s gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons, tougher background checks and a “red flag” law. In turn, Republican Gov. Bill Lee recently urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others.

Yet, so far, the Republican supermajority has refused. Rather, they’ve advanced legislation designed to add more armed guards in public and private schools and are considering a proposal that would allow teachers to carry guns. Lee has also issued executive orders to strengthen background checks.

It’s unclear in the supposed last week of session if there will be enough of an appetite to pass a so-called “red flag” law — designed to remove firearms from those making threats or suffering severe mental breakdowns. Similar statutes have passed in other states after mass shootings, including in Florida, which passed a “red flag” law in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints about the 19-year-old Florida gunman’s threatening statements.

Notably, Tennessee’s governor has avoided saying the words “red flag,” an acknowledgment that the shorthand has become politically off-putting to many Republicans leery of appearing willing to restrict firearms.

On Monday, Bishop William Barber II led a march to Tennessee’s Capitol in Nashville, demanding lawmakers support gun safety legislation and stop using their authority to trample democracy. Participants carried child-size caskets and laid them outside the Capitol building as a symbol of those lost to gun violence.

Barber is the national co-chairman of the Poor People’s Campaign, a national demonstration against poverty Martin Luther King Jr. was planning, as revived by activists with the goal of ending systemic racism.

“The legislators are back, but returning duly elected lawmakers to their seat does not solve the problem,” Barber said, demanding that lawmakers “stop committing policy murder.”

Also Monday, the head of the influential Southern Baptist’s public policy arm, Brent Leatherwood of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to “put down the weapons of partisan warfare” and instead work with Gov. Lee on passing legislation that would “make a real difference.

Leatherwood, who had three children enrolled at the private Christian school where the fatal shooting took place, said lawmakers have the authority to oppose “evil and protect innocent lives.”

“Other voices are saying there is too little time left in this legislative session to consider such a proposal. Little credence should be given to that,” he wrote. “Now is the time to act.”

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Tenn. lawmakers’ race to adjourn complicates gun safety push