SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — On Monday, Tennessee lawmakers will return to the Capitol for a long-awaited special session, but before it even gets started, proposals to overhaul gun laws are already getting tossed out.
Republican Governor Bill Lee officially signed the proclamation. It’s a decision made following the deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, where six people died including, three children.
“I’m under pressure to provide an environment for Tennesseans that is safe,” Lee said at a press conference in Memphis last week.
The governor vowed to call lawmakers back when they didn’t debate his proposal allowing the courts to remove firearms from those considered a danger to themselves or others.
Republican Senator Brent Taylor of Memphis believes the measure still won’t happen.
“I believe it’s doomed. There’s very little support for the governor’s red flag bill,” he told WREG.
On top of that, Lee worded his proclamation with specific topics lawmakers can discuss during the special session, ranging from mental health, school safety plans, and blended sentencing for juveniles, meaning young offenders would get both juvenile and adult sentences.
Unlike like a regular session, in a special session, a governor sets the agenda, and lawmakers have to stick to it. Anything else has to wait until January.
This means tougher gun reform like bans on bump stocks and assault-style weapons won’t make the cut.
Rep. John Gillespie, a Republican from Memphis, says he submitted several bills like enhancing sentences for certain crimes committed with guns and preventing someone indicted for a dangerous felony from purchasing more firearms.
“I was frustrated and a little surprised,” he said.
They were denied except for one bill providing incentives to help recruit more medical health professionals. He’s hopeful that one will pass.
“Right now, one of the big issues facing the city of Memphis and the state is lack of mental health professionals and access to them,” he said.
Democratic Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis said he also filed a series of bills, one of which connects an adult gang member who gets a juvenile to steal a gun to the crime the juvenile commits using that weapon.
He says they passed the first hurdle of meeting the scope of the session but haven’t been put on the calendar yet.
“Everything we do matters. Whether it’s big or small, it matters. Is it enough? Absolutely not. Is it hitting to the core of the issue? Absolutely not,” he said.
Other Democrats agree. Senator London Lamar, a Democrat from Memphis, called Governor Lee’s proclamation restrictive. She added it’s “an insult to every Tennessean who had hoped for a genuine, bipartisan effort to end the pervasive threat of gun violence in our state.”
“They’re just upset, because their ideas didn’t get put in, because we don’t believe that they would fix anything,” Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said to our sister station in Nashville.
It’s a strong stance other GOP lawmakers have. They say the conversation must be about mental health and point to incidents like when police say a man tried entering a Memphis Jewish school last month and fired shots outside. Friends of his family say he was struggling with mental illness.
“Rather than removing their guns and allowing them to remain in society to have other weapons to commit crimes, it’s to figure out how to get the person into a mental health facility and get them mental health professionals and treatment they need,” said Taylor.
The session begins Monday, August. 21. It’s unclear how long it will last. If you want to watch, all official legislative business is streamed online. Click here to watch.
The governor’s office has reported more than 20,000 Tennesseans submitted public comments for this special session. If you want to comment, click here.