NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — At least three Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly are calling on Gov. Bill Lee to cancel the upcoming special session on public safety set for later in August.
In an open letter posted on Twitter, Rep. Bryan Richey (R—Maryville) urged his party’s leader to “abandon the special session [he has] proposed for August 21, in response to The Covenant School tragedy,” saying in part the legislature would be able to “further consider and discuss legitimate measures to improve public safety when the legislature reconvenes in January 2024.”
“Summoning legislators to Nashville to enact an unconstitutional ‘red flag’ law will not, as you suggest, ‘strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights.'” Richey said in the letter. “To the contrary, the General Assembly adamantly opposes—and has refused to enact—measures that violate Tennesseans’ Second Amendment rights, whether styled ‘order of protection’ legislation or any other euphemism.”
Richey said the legislature has “declined to adopt measures that would allow the confiscation of lawful firearms from citizens without due process” and “such legislation would be blatantly unconstitutional under the controlling Supreme Court precedent in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022).”
“We will not violate our oath to uphold the Constitution for political expediency or to curry favor with special interests,” Richey said in the letter. “At the same time, we have supported your initiatives to enhance the security of Tennessee’s schools, to deter future incidents like the horror that occurred at Covenant on March 27, 2023.”
Richey reminded the governor that the General Assembly adjourned the 2023 session “without passing your proposed ‘red flag’ law, and House Republicans have emphatically expressed their opposition to such measures in the future.” He added a quote from Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, who said “the Tennessee General Assembly will not pass any red flag law, period.”
Richey said the plan for the upcoming special session stuck other Republicans as an “expensive, disruptive, futile, and counter-productive publicity stunt” and “a solution in search of a problem,” stating a red flag law would not have prevented the Covenant shooting from happening.
“We can strengthen our criminal penalties and protect our people at any time,” the letter reads. “It does not require a special session—a session that will be a political event to put pressure on conservative Republicans to grow government and ignore the will of their constituents in service to the national woke mob that will descend on the Capitol.”
The letter states “press reports indicate that left-wing activists are planning to use the proposed special session to stage disruptive protests that will make the ‘Tennessee Three’ circus look like a dress rehearsal” and “heavy security will be necessary to protect legislators from unruly agitators.”
“Why would you want to provide a platform for such political theatre?” Richey asked in the letter.
While the governor is empowered to call a special session, Richey said, “It is in our view wholly inappropriate to do so when the legislature, which has a supermajority of Members of the same political party as the Governor, has voted to adjourn.”
“There is no emergency, declared or otherwise, that justifies calling us back to work in August,” the letter states. “The reason is a series of policy proposals that we, as a legislative body deliberately—and prudently—chose to reject this session. If interparty comity is being put aside to pressure fellow Republicans to embrace gun control measures, we still have a remaining duty to demand respect for the separate of powers.
“The Governor has already proposed and we have already disposed. Hopefully, in January, we can continue our work together to make Tennessee safe, prosperous, and free.”
The letter was signed on by Rep. Todd Warner (R—Chapel Hill) and Sen. Janice Bowling (R—Tullahoma). Initially, Richey issued the letter with another House member’s name, but he has since reissued the open letter with a different configuration of lawmakers’ signatures. A previous version of the letter also contained a signature from Rep. Ed Butler (R—Rickman), but Richey has since reissued the letter, minus Butler’s name.
In response to an inquiry from News 2’s Chris O’Brien, a spokesperson for Lee’s office said they were “aware of the letter.”
“Separately, the Governor looks forward to pursuing thoughtful solutions with the General Assembly in August to ensure public safety and preserve constitutional rights,” his office said.
House Majority Leader William Lamberth responded and said Richey’s statement “absolutely does not” speak for the entire House Republican Caucus.
“If our Governor calls the legislature back into a special session to discuss any issue, the Republican Caucus will certainly be ready, willing and able to debate the best way forward for our state, just as we have done in five previous special sessions. We will continue to defend and preserve civil rights while ensuring every community is safer than it is today.”Rep. William Lamberth (R—Portland)
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons said his caucus was “ready to get to work” in the August special session.
“Tennesseans overwhelmingly support gun safety laws to better protect our children and communities and want legislative action,” he told News 2. “Democrats agree and stand ready to get to work. As usual, the only thing standing in the way to public safety is the Republican supermajority.”
Richey spoke with O’Brien about the decision to publish the letter, reiterating there was no corresponding emergency for the special session, and the session was a waste of taxpayer money.