Gov. Lee’s parameters for upcoming special session receive pushback from Democratic leaders

Published: Aug. 8, 2023 at 10:34 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is calling state lawmakers back to Nashville on Monday, August 21, for a special session on public safety.

The governor outlined the scope of that special session in a proclamation issued on Tuesday, and Democrats say it contains no teeth to toughen up gun laws.

After the Covenant School shooting in Nashville in March, Governor Lee promised to hold a special session to talk about common sense gun legislation. State lawmakers will be very limited in what bills they can consider based on the 18 topics included in Governor Lee’s proclamation.

State Representative Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat from Memphis, told Action News 5 that Governor Lee’s call is not perfect, but there is room for improving Tennessee’s laws. Rep. Parkinson said he wants more mental health professionals hired in the state, and he’d like to see tougher penalties for adults who supply guns to minors.

“Are we going to get rid of permitless carry? Nope. It’s not going to happen,” said Parkinson. “Are they going to ban guns? Nope, it’s not going to happen. But in those spaces where we can improve people’s quality of life and create some safety, I’m all for it.” 

Democratic State Senator Raumesh Akbari of Memphis says Governor Lee’s call is so narrow in focus, it blocks most gun safety reform.

“We don’t have anything about open carry,” said Akbari. “We don’t have anything about secure storage, maybe even taking back those laws that allow people to keep guns in their cars and not locked up. And we didn’t see anything about enhanced background checks. But I’m optimistic and hopeful we can address getting guns out of the hands of those who are a harm to themselves or to others.”

Akbari specifically mentioned Item 12 in Governor Lee’s proclamation, which deals with temporary mental health orders of protection. In Lee’s proclamation, the order must be initiated by law enforcement, and it requires a due process hearing. The respondent must undergo an assessment for suicidal or homicidal ideation and law enforcement must prove its case by clear and convincing evidence. The order of protection would have to be re-evaluated every 180 days.

Tennessee House Republicans tweeted Tuesday night: “We look forward to the opportunity to strengthen public safety and mental health resources without infringing on the rights of law-abiding Tennesseans.”

House minority leader Karen Camper of Memphis expressed disappointment in the governor’s call.

“I know Gov Lee was under tremendous pressure from his own party to call off the special session, but I was hoping for a serious discussion about gun reform in Tennessee,” said Camper. “We are losing too many lives to gun violence and it’s time to come to the table and have a real dialogue on how to bring this situation under control.”

For Camper, Parkinson, Akbari, and Memphis’ other Democrats, this is just the beginning of the gun control battle.

“Elected officials have to realize that people across this state want stronger background checks,” said Sen. Akbari. “They want red flag laws. They want to feel safe, and it’s not a partisan issue. We just have to make sure the General Assembly feels that way as well and realizes that.”

Tennessee’s special session on public safety starts in less than two weeks on Monday, August 21. The Senate convenes at 4 p.m. The House starts at 5 p.m.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tell Action News 5 they expect the session to go quickly, lasting about a week.

View Gov. Lee’s proclamation on the upcoming special legislative session below:

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