Tennessee’s Republican governor said Tuesday he would support gun reform legislation, pulling an abrupt 180 on gun control legislation as his state still reels from a school shooting.
A shooter opened fire at the Covenant School in Nashville two weeks ago, killing three children and three adults and wounding several others. State Republicans, including Governor Bill Lee, have insisted that there is nothing they could have done or could do differently to prevent such a tragedy. When Democrats agitated for gun reform on the floor of the state House of Representatives, Speaker Cameron Sexton moved to expel two of them from the legislature.
Lee finally struck a different tune Tuesday, during an appearance at the Midtown Hills police precinct, which responded to the Covenant School shooting. “I think everyone—leadership from speakers as well as other leaders—have expressed a desire to do something and move forward,” he said. “I have challenged them to bring forward ideas and subsequently met with those leaders. I do believe we should get it done during this session.”
Lee did not offer any specific suggestions of what those laws, including a red flag law, should entail. Here are some places he could look for ideas: the red flag law that Tennessee failed to pass in 2020 or the package of gun reform measures that state Democrats introduced last week.
One of those bills is for extreme risk protection, another name for a red flag law. The measure would let families and law enforcement intervene when a person poses a significant threat to others or themselves.
The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee has said it will not hear any firearm legislation for the rest of the year, but Lee urged the legislature to pass some kind of reform this session.
A few hours after Lee’s speech, Sexton responded by announcing that “the House is willing to work toward bipartisan solutions to protect all children at their schools, in their communities, and inside their homes.” Though he did not specify a red flag law or say the word “guns,” his statement was in response to Lee’s suggestion for this legislation.
Lee’s speech was only his second public appearance since the shooting, and it was markedly different from his first one. In a video message posted on Twitter just days after the attack, Lee said he had lost two close friends in the shooting, but it was not yet time for change.
“I understand that there is pain; I understand the desperation to have answers, to place blame, to argue about a solution that could prevent this horrible tragedy,” he said. “There will come a time to discuss and debate policy. But this is not a time for hate or rage. That will not resolve or heal.”
His pivot comes after two weeks of turmoil in and national scrutiny of the Tennessee state legislature. Thousands of students marched two separate times on the Capitol building demanding gun control. They were joined by three Democratic lawmakers, two of whom were subsequently expelled by their Republican colleagues for allegedly breaking House decorum rules.
One of the expelled lawmakers, Justin Jones of Nashville, was reinstated Monday by his district’s Metro Council. He is now technically a “new member” and can file up to 15 bills. Jones promised Monday night that all 15 bills he files will be on gun control.