Tennessee Governor Signs Anti-‘Red Flag’ Bill Into Law

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Joe Rondone/The Commercial Appeal via AP, Pool

Tennessee already has a strong firearms preemption law on the books that prohibits local and county governments from establishing their own gun control ordinances, but the law is even stronger now that Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill outlawing any locality from establishing their own “red flag” law. 

The piece of legislation, which became law with Gov. Lee’s signature on May 28, “preempts the entire field of legislation regarding extreme risk protection orders,” according to its language, “except as otherwise provided by state law.”
However, a year prior, Gov. Lee advocated for ERPOs ahead of the 2023 Special Session on public safety. 
“A person that has shown that they are a real threat to themselves or to others, that person, that individual should not have access to firearms,” Gov. Lee said to reporters in April 2023.
After the Republican supermajority publicly said they would not support legislation allowing ERPOs, Gov. Lee dropped the issue, and it was never presented during the special session.
Gov. Lee recently told reporters he planned to sign the bill preempting local governments from enacting ERPO legislation because it made room for a more unified, statewide solution to the problem. 
“We need to have solutions that are unified across the state,” Gov. Lee said. “When we have a patchwork of those type bills, whether they’re criminal bills or public safety bills, and we don’t have unity there, it’s not nearly as effective or valuable as a unified bill.”

I don’t know that Lee has actually seen the light, but he’s definitely felt the heat from his fellow Republicans on the issue of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Even if the governor is still quietly in favor of a statewide “red flag” law, however, blocking localities from establishing their own ERPO ordinance makes sense. 

Let’s say Memphis Democrats set up a municipal Extreme Risk Protection Order. Local police would be empowered to remove any firearms possessed by someone subjected to a “red flag” petition, but it would be darn near impossible to prevent them from buying another. If the red flag law could only be enforced locally, there’s nothing stopping someone from driving just a few miles outside of the city limits to purchase a firearm, which means it’s basically useless for anything other than a political talking point. 

And of course, any local “red flag” law is likely going to have the same issues that we see with state-level ERPO statutes; a lack of due process for those accused, an inability to have legal counsel appointed for those who can’t afford an attorney, and a fundamental contradiction with the text, history, and tradition of the right to keep and bear arms. 

Lee made the right call, so of course anti-gunners in Nashville are lashing out at him.  

House Democratic Caucus Chair, Rep. John Ray Clemmons, (D-Nashville) told News 2 he isn’t surprised Gov. Lee signed the bill.
“He is all talk when it comes to gun safety legislation,” Rep Clemmons said. “He has put no action behind any of his words. His own friend was murdered at the Covenant School and he did absolutely nothing to better protect her, those in a similar position to her, and children in our schools. He talked a big game but he never did anything to back that up.”

What Clemmons really means, of course, is that Lee didn’t push for a gun ban, waiting period, raising the age to purchase a firearm, or any of the other anti-gun measures Democrats tried to enact while exploiting the murders at Covenant School. Lee called lawmakers back to Nashville for a special session, and he pushed for his version of a statewide Extreme Risk Protection Order, but once he realized there was virtually no appetite for his proposal among the GOP caucus he quietly let the matter drop. 

Republicans did take several steps to increase school security around the state, as well as adopting measures cracking down on juvenile criminals and allowing school districts to have armed school staff in place. Clemmons might not like that approach, but it’s hardly nothing. In fact, I’d say those initiatives are going to do far more to prevent another school shooting than banning guns or allowing localities to tread on our fundamental civil rights in the name of public safety. If the voters in Tennessee disagree they’ve got the chance to send a message this November, but I suspect that when the votes are tallied Clemmons and his fellow anti-gunners are going to find themselves stuck in the minority once again. 

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