Gov. Lee addresses goal for upcoming special session as Republican lawmakers show support

Published: Aug. 9, 2023 at 6:52 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 9, 2023 at 7:03 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said he’s confident lawmakers will pass legislation to make Tennessee schools and streets safer, one day after he announced the date for the much-anticipated special legislative session on public safety.

The comments came from Gov. Lee at an event in Memphis on Wednesday, and on the heels of news that broke last week that the Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee adopted a resolution asking Governor Lee to abandon the special session altogether.

Lee said he wasn’t concerned with the pressure from his own party. Instead, he’s focused on the pressure from Tennesseans to put safety above party.

“Tennesseans want this,” the governor told Action News 5. “We have an obligation to work together and lean into ways to keep our kids safe, our streets safe, and our communities safe.”

According to a poll by Vanderbilt University, 82% of registered voters in the state agree with the executive order Governor Lee signed in April to strengthen background checks for gun purchases.

That same poll also revealed 72% of Tennessee voters support a red-flag law to prevent “general gun violence.”

When the same group was asked if they support red flag laws to prevent school shootings— the number climbed to 75%.

“We can’t wait to address those issues and we can’t wait for someone else to address them,” said the governor. “I believe we should and we will in this special session.”

Republican lawmaker from Memphis John Gillespie, who represents the 97th House District, said he supports the special session.

He is also introducing a piece of legislation in the special session to make it a felony when Tennesseans who are prohibited from owning a firearm or having ammunition get caught with either.

Gillespie’s legislation also aims to close straw-purchase loopholes, which he said help dangerous criminals get their hands on guns and undermine state laws.

“There will be some people who are upset, but 20 percent of people will always be upset,” Gillespie said. “I am pushing for 80 percent and think that’s a healthy dose.”

Another Shelby County Republican in support of making change is Representative Mark White, who said he’s ready to fight in order to make Tennessee safer for everyone.

“I think we have to,” White told Action News 5. “I have been a Memphian for 57 years and we have a great community. We need to fight to protect it.”

The special session will start August 21.

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