NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — When Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) floated a Hail Mary firearms proposal in the waning days of session earlier this year, Republicans – particularly in the House – pretty much immediately shot it down.
“I don’t see the will of the Senate or the House before we close out tomorrow to be able to get their minds around a 15-page bill,” said House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison.
Lee coined it an “enhanced order of protection” or ERPO, which is essentially a modified red flag law to separate weapons from dangerous people.
“The General Assembly will ultimately decide which one of those pass. But I feel confident because of the engagement and the work and the efforts, I feel confident that we will have substantive legislation brought forth, and that we’ll make Tennessee a safer place as a result of that,” Lee said.
Since session wrapped, that rejection has only grown fiercer.
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said you may see some gun reform, but not the way you’re thinking.
“Right now, criminals who are felons cannot own a weapon, but they can have as much ammunition in their house as they so choose,” he said. “So, for a felon to own ammunition, you might see us go that route.”
In terms of the governor’s proposal, nothing has changed.
“As far as the enhanced orders of protection, red flag laws, yeah, you’re not going to see us go down that road,” Sexton said.
Moreover, the Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA) – which has donated to more than 20 Republicans in the legislature – has been pushing a ‘red flag down’ campaign, even though top Republicans seemingly have already decided it won’t pass.
“While there are some Republicans – we’ve got 74 in the House out of 99 – clearly saying it’s a non-starter, we don’t know that we have enough saying that,” TFA Executive Director John Harris said.
Harris did point out a few Republicans by name who say they support some small changes.
“Lieutenant Governor McNally says he likes them. He likes the red flag law, I have not seen him back off of that. I have the Senate Caucus leader saying we cannot pass it if we call it a red flag law, so we’ve got to rebrand it,” he said. “That gives me pause, okay? We have House leaders like Jeremy Faison making statements about supporting some form of gun control.”
Democrats can argue until they’re metaphorically blue in the face – and they have.
“Just continue with your thoughts and prayer, that’s about the same value as coming down here to check a box will do,” Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) said.
Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) concurred.
“In the politically-charged environment that we’re in, in a lot of cases, even if it’s a good idea, those good ideas will be brushed to the side,” he said.
Sen. Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville) pointed to the fact that Democrats rarely ever have a chance to pass meaningful legislation in Tennessee.
“We’re under a constant barrage of attacks,” she said. “So we find ourselves playing defense a lot.”
But at the crux of it, Republicans control every piece of the state. So whatever happens – or does not happen – is on their shoulders.
“It’s never been this bad,” Rep. Sam Mckenzie (D-Knoxville) said. “I really attribute it to being drunk with power.”
Is there a chance some gun control passes? The possibility does exist, especially if Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) really does help in the Senate.
“I support the governor,” he said. “I think his proposal was on target.”
But with the lack of help in the House, it seems almost doomed to fail.
Proposals for tougher gun control have brought strong opinions and polarizing viewpoints from state lawmakers. News 2 explores what the people of Tennessee think in a special Voices of Tennessee report.