NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Two weeks after thousands of protesters descended upon the State Capitol in support of stricter gun laws, Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) announced he’s pushing for an “order of protection” law to prevent people law enforcement proves are threatening from purchasing guns.
“It won’t solve all the problems,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said. “But I think it will take a good step forward.”
Though Lee may run into one big roadblock—his own party.
In the last few years, much of the Republican supermajority has been starkly against any sort of gun restriction.
“We need to be very, very careful,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said. “I do not support anything that does not include full due process.”
Johnson, the de-facto second-in-command in the Senate, said he supports Lee’s order of protection law, but it’s a delicate balance because he wants to preserve Second Amendment rights.
“It’s a constitutional right, whether you agree or disagree with it,” he said. “The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental and constitutional right, and I support that right, wholeheartedly.”
Senate Democratic leadership praised Lee’s push.
“It is a pleasant surprise. I know the governor and Republican leadership has said that they want to do something,” Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) said. “But to see them come out so strongly, especially for red flag laws – something our Caucus has been pushing for the past several weeks – is super encouraging.”
For anything to actually happen, it would need at least roughly 25% of Republicans in the House, nearly 30% of Republicans in the Senate, and every Democrat to agree.
But Democrats are not losing hope.
“Cautiously optimistic. Obviously, we have to come together and make sure we’re on the same page and it’s something we can support,” Akbari said. “But we’re ready to work.”
There’s still no official legislation, and time this session is running low. But Lee said he wants to get something through by the end of it.
“Hopefully, it’ll pass this time,” McNally said. “But if it doesn’t, I’m sure it’ll pass next year.”
There’s no set time for the end of session, but it typically ends in late April or early May.
“We don’t have a set time to adjourn here, and we need to do the people’s business, regardless of how long it takes,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to encourage that we rush to get out of here when there are important matters that we need to at least discuss.”
Johnson’s office also sent the following statement prior to his interview Wednesday:
“I am committed to protecting Tennesseans’ constitutional rights, including the right to due process. I have always been and continue to be opposed to so-called “red flag laws” because they deprive citizens of their rights without due process. I do believe, however, that criminals and individuals experiencing a severe mental health crisis should not have access to firearms. Current Tennessee law prohibits those who have been involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment or adjudicated as mentally defective from owning, possessing, or purchasing firearms. We must ensure these laws are strongly enforced. Changes to the current law should not be made in haste nor come from a place of emotion. Depriving someone of a constitutional right is a serious matter and any proposal to create an emergency mental health order of protection must be carefully considered, narrowly tailored, and require rigorous due process. To my knowledge, no bill has been drafted. I am not willing to express support for or opposition to a bill that I have not seen.”