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Tennessee pushes at gun-control crossroads as proposal stalls

The chances of a major gun-control proposal making it through the Tennessee legislature in the wake of a deadly school shooting are quickly shrinking, as GOP lawmakers push back against the Republican governor’s proposal to keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others. face

Tennessee has become a flashpoint in the nation’s heated debate over gun rights. Two young black Democratic lawmakers Expelled from Rajya Sabha to protest gun control. They have since has been reinstated.

Pressure to pass gun safety measures has also come from students, parents, politicians and others Shooting last month at The Covenant School in Nashville, which killed three children and three adults.

“Tennessees are asking us to put politics and personal ego aside,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a video Wednesday.

As of Thursday, the path forward was unclear.

Legislative Session Tennessee

Members of Voices for a Safer Tennessee hold signs as they attend a Senate legislative session at the state Capitol, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. The group has been advocating for gun-control legislation since the Covenant school shooting. March 27th.

George Walker IV/AP

Faced with scrutiny over deportations and public demands for gun control, Republican lawmakers are rushing to end the legislative session this week. The GOP has majorities in both chambers.

In the final days of the session, Lee campaigned for a “temporary mental health protection order.”

Law enforcement will first determine if a person is a threat, then a hearing will be held with the person in question and a judge will rule on whether they should indeed temporarily take away their weapons. If so, the person must surrender their gun, ammunition and any handgun carry license to a third party within 48 hours for up to 180 days.

A person facing an order of protection petition will be offered a court-appointed attorney, and anyone determined to file a frivolous report could face a felony perjury charge. Will have a mental health evaluation.

Lee said top lawmakers had input on the proposal and argued it was not “red flag legislation”. He called the term a “toxic political label meant to draw a line in the sand where nothing gets done.”

A quiet reception, House Republican terminology does not appear to make a difference.

Legislative Session Tennessee

Sen. Rep. Jeff Yarbrough, D-Nashville, rests his head on his desk on the Senate floor after the Senate voted to table an Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation during a legislative session Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

George Walker IV/AP

“Any red flag legislation is a non-starter,” the House GOP caucus tweeted Wednesday. “Our caucus is focused on finding solutions that prevent dangerous individuals from harming the public and preserve the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who leads the Senate, said the governor’s proposal strikes the right balance. Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton was unopposed, saying he wanted to find “the best way to protect Tennessee’s children.”

Lee’s plan has not yet been put on a bill. As Senate Democrats called for a vote on Lee’s proposal, Sen. Jeff Yarbrough of Nashville tried to force a floor vote on a similar plan Thursday. Republicans rejected it on procedural grounds.

During that debate, Katy Dickhouse, whose daughter Evelyn Dickhouse died at The Covenant School, saw a photo of her daughter in her arms from the gallery.

Legislative Session Tennessee

Katy Dickhouse (right0), mother of Covenant School shooting victim Evelyn Dickhouse, reacts to Senate members voting to table an Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation during a legislative session at the state Capitol, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

George Walker IV/AP

After the shooting, lawmakers and Lee passed resolutions that focused primarily on school safety. A new budget passed Thursday proposed $204.7 million for school safety and student behavioral health measures, including a school resource officer at every public school and grants for private school safety.

Lawmakers passed a bill to further protect gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits, despite requests not to consider it in light of the shooting.

Public pressure for stricter gun laws continues to grow.

Bill Frist, the former Republican US Senate Majority Leader of Tennessee, was among the authors of a newspaper column calling for the so-called extreme risk protection order and other changes. Frost is a heart and lung transplant surgeon.

“Most Americans support sensible gun laws. So do the vast majority of Tennesseans,” the column said.

Gun lobby groups were quick to cry foul.

The Tennessee Firearms Association said Lee’s proposal shows “blatant disregard for the United States Supreme Court and the Constitution.”

The legislative arm of the National Rifle Association said Tennessee law already allows for the “detention of dangerous individuals experiencing mental health crises.”

Lee said the “involuntary commitment” would “limit all kinds of constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment.”

Police say The Covenant School shooter was under a doctor’s care for an undisclosed “emotional disorder.” However, authorities have not publicly disclosed a link between that care and the shooting. Police say the gunman was not on their radar before the attack.

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