Tennessee governor defends Second Amendment in previewing special session on public safety, gun reform

Tennessee Republican Gov Bill Lee defends Second Amendment after Nashville Christian school shooting by transgender suspect

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, reportedly publicly addressed for the first time Monday the impending special legislative session on public safety and gun reform he is planning on holding in the wake of last month's shooting carried out by a transgender person at Christian school in Nashville that left six people dead. 

"What we plan to do is work together with the General Assembly to find a way that will in fact protect the broader public, that will protect the rights of Tennesseans," Lee told reporters in Chattanooga, according to WKRN. "We believe we can do that."

Speaking with media at an event to sign the "Forever Homes Act," which aims to expedite adoptions and encourage them over abortions, Lee discussed what he expects from the special legislative session since last Friday's announcement. "There needs to be a way to separate those that are a danger to others and to themselves from access to weapons and protect the rights — and particularly the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans," Lee said.


On Friday, Lee announced that he will call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene a special session to pass legislation "that will strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights." Earlier last week, Tennessee House Republicans released a statement saying "any red flag law would be a non-starter." 


Bill Lee at gun reform press conference

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee responds to questions during a news conference Tuesday, April 11, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee. Lee held the news conference to talk about gun control legislation and an executive order to require information for background checks. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

"I don’t think it’s a non-starter," Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, a Republican, told reporters following a session Friday night, referring to red flag laws. "I think that we’ll have to examine it and have it go through the requisite committees in both the Senate and the House." While Lee might face pushback in the House, state Senate Republicans reportedly seem more receptive. 

On April 11, the governor issued an executive order strengthening background checks for firearm purchases in addition to calling on the General Assembly to bring forward an "order of protection law" in order to "provide the broader population cover, safety, from those who are a danger to themselves or the population."

Audrey Hale, a 28-year-old transgender artist and former student at The Covenant School, allegedly fatally gunned down three children and three adults on March 27. 

Authorities are facing mounting pressure to release the manifesto Hale is said to have left behind, as no motive for the bloodshed has been confirmed nearly a month later. 

Tennessee Three outside White House

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, middle right, state Rep. Gloria Johnson and state Rep. Justin Pearson, left, speak outside the White House after meeting with President Biden in on April 24, 2023, regarding ongoing efforts to ban assault weapons. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Nashville has seen protests demanding gun reform, and Democratic lawmakers, coined by the Biden White House as the "Tennessee Three," joined anti-gun demonstrators in disrupting a legislative session. The Republican-led chamber voted to expel Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, who are both Black, for breaking procedural rules. Rep. Gloria Johnson, of Knoxville, is White and, after narrowing surviving an expulsion vote herself, accused Republicans of racism in forcing out Jones and Pearson. 


By contrast, Johnson did not use a megaphone to interrupt the session. Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton condemned Johnson for espousing such "false narrative" that race played a factor, and Jones and Pearson have since been reinstated to the legislature. 


President Biden welcomed the Tennessee Three at the White House on Monday, prompting criticism for apparently snubbing the families of the Covenant shooting victims.

Justin Pearson of Tennessee Three seen meeting with Biden

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Pearson, a member of the Tennessee Three, smiles while meeting with President Biden on April 24, 2023, in the Oval Office. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

"What we talked about is obviously the issue of gun reform and the need to have more gun violence prevention, and the work that can be done potentially federally but also at the state level because, as you all know, in the state of Tennessee there’s an effort by the governor to call a special session which we completely support to really address the issue of gun violence or gun violence reform," Pearson told reporters outside the White House after their meeting. 

"We talked about a lot of items. We talked about red flag laws. We talked about safe storage laws. We talked about assault weapons and what that would look like. So, there were a lot of options, as well as universal background checks and closing loopholes," Johnson said. 

Jones told reporters they talked to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who formally announced a re-election bid Tuesday, and spoke of a "multiracial movement of reconstruction we’re experiencing right now in Tennessee."

"We talked about how Tennessee can be a model for the nation," Jones said. "We came as Tennessee lawmakers, but we didn’t just come as legislators. We came as voices of moral descent as to what happened in our state. And so, we lifted this issue about the partisan divide. This is not left or right. We talked to the president about how this is a moral issue, an issue of conscience, an issue in the south while we are trying to build a multiracial democracy and challenge these extreme voices that rather than passing an assault weapons ban, they ass

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