If you’re a regular reader here at Bearing Arms, you know I’ve been pretty critical of the way the special session called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee went down, in large part because of the inexplicable decision by House Republicans to drag the session out for a second week even after it was clear that the state Senate wasn’t interested in doing more than passing a handful of bills requested by Lee… none of them the “temporary mental health order of protection” that the governor was hoping would be the centerpiece of the session.
Letting the session go on for longer than necessary only gave anti-gunners and their Democratic allies a daily opportunity to preen and protest before local media, putting their false narrative before low-information voters and those casual viewers of political news. Take this post on X from liberal commentator Victor Shi sent shortly after the session gaveled to a close.
Please pay attention to what's happening in Tennessee: The Senate just adjoured & the House is expected to adjourn until JANUARY. Justin Jones was barred from speaking. Other Reps were ruled "out of order." This is fascism. This is how democracy dies. Be alarmed & be outraged.
— Victor Shi (@Victorshi2020) August 29, 2023
Shi wants his followers to believe there’s something nefarious going on with the House and Senate adjourning until January, when the truth is that lawmakers never would have been in Nashville this week to begin with if it weren’t for Lee calling a special session of the legislature. How exactly is that fascism? Because the House ruled that Jones’ comments during debate on a bill about increasing the number of school resource officers were out of order? That may have been a short-sighted move on the part of House Republicans but it’s hardly evidence that Tennessee has devolved into a despotic regime. Instead, it’s just one of several political missteps made by House leaders over the course of the session.
Even Democratic lawmakers didn’t want the session to drag out for weeks on end, if for no other reason than Tennessee law prohibits legislators from fundraising while they’re in session. This is typically the time of year when representatives and senators are holding events in their district to raise money for the next election cycle, and I guarantee that none of them wanted to be stuck in the statehouse in Nashville until Christmas, no matter how much earned media they might have generated between now and then.
The truth is that the special session ended up producing little actual legislation, and a whole lot of hot air from activists and pundits who were never going to be satisfied with the outcome unless Republicans suddenly embraced their anti-civil rights agenda and voted to criminalize basic aspects of our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. There were only three bills that were approved by both chambers and while I don’t have a problem with any of them, all three could have easily been taken up in January when the next regular session gavels in.
House Bill 7012, which directs the Tennessee Department of Safety to provide free firearm locks and exempts the retail sale of firearm safes and firearm safety devices from sales taxes. The Department of Safety had previously had a lock giveaway program and had excess locks on hand.
House Bill 7041, which directs the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to submit a report on human trafficking to the governor’s office and legislature. The TBI already collects and manages this data.
House Bill 7013, which reduces the maximum time within which court clerks must notify the TBI of the final results of criminal proceedings against a person.
In addition to those bills, the House and Senate agreed on a spending package meant to bolster school security and mental health resources.
$1.6 million revenue decrease to permanently ending sales tax on gun safes (recurring)
$1.1 million nonrecurring for a public service announcement campaign on gun storage
$10 million nonrecurring for school safety grants for public and charter schools that do not already have full-time school resource officers for the 2023-24 school year
$50 million nonrecurring for community mental health agencies to provide mental health services
$12.1 million nonrecurring for sign-on and retention bonuses for behavioral health professionals at the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
$3 million nonrecurring for a behavioral health scholarship program to provide a stipend for Tennessee residents pursuing a degree in a behavioral health related field
$4 million nonrecurring for a behavioral health safety net program to provide mental health services
$30 million nonrecurring for school safety grants for public and private colleges and universities
Funding to pay for staff, per diem, travel expenses incurred to hold the special session
That funding, by the way, amounted to about $58,000 for each day of the special session, making it both a waste of time and money. And though the session gaveled to a close without any new gun control measures becoming law, the Tennessee Firearms Association is warning members not to get complacent in the months ahead.
[W]e can take note of how the Special Session turned into, at least for a period, an occasion where certain Democrat gun-control Legislators appeared to have been able to rally the gun control advocates as if they were serving as legislators only to facilitate “community organizer” agendas. It is likely that at least one of these Legislators, particularly after being “hushed” for rules violations, will likely gain financial resources nationally as threat to the Second Amendment.
… [I]t is obvious that the Republicans in the General Assembly are not a unified voice that are willing, at least on the Second Amendment, to defend our rights. The Special Session exposed Republicans – mainly in the House – who are a clear risk to Second Amendment interests. The Special Session also exposed a clear tension between the House and Senate on a number of issues related to not only gun control but the Governor’s agenda in general.
Tennessee Firearms Association members and members of other legitimate gun advocacy groups as well as our respective members can take a brief breath for today but only if they remain aware that the biggest threat to our rights is government, including the state and local governments in Tennessee. It is now time to regroup, reassess, get ready for what may be a greater and more sustained fight that will be manifested in the January 2024 continuation of the Legislative session.
The fight is never over, and the smears and slanders from the Left will continue as well. Tennessee gun owners can enjoy a brief respite from legislative action, but they need to be taking action themselves to ensure that when lawmakers return to Nashville in a few months their eyes are on measures that will offer substantive improvement to public safety, mental health, and school security without infringing on any of our fundamental liberties.