Tennessee GOP governor signs executive order strengthening background checks

Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday signed an executive order designed to strengthen background checks, and called on the state Legislature to pass the equivalent of a red flag law.

During a news conference, Lee said the executive order would ensure that information-sharing “more closely guarantees the safe, lawful purchase of firearms in Tennessee.”

He also said legislation was needed to address deficiencies in existing gun laws.

“Our current law is proven and effective in many circumstances and many circumstances, especially with regard to domestic violence, but this new stronger order protection law will provide the broader population cover, safety, from those who are in danger to themselves or to the population ,” Lee said.

Red flag laws, which are similar in scope to order protection laws, allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms from people who are found to be dangers to themselves or others. President Joe Biden last year signed landmark bipartisan gun legislation that included grants to states for red flag laws.

It is unclear if the Tennessee Legislature, where Republicans hold a majority, will take up such a bill.

Police said the Nashville school shooter was under care for an emotional disorder and hid weapons at their parents’ home.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who also serves as speaker of the Senate, was supportive of the governor’s efforts.

“I support the Second Amendment unequivocally and believe that a law-abiding, armed citizenry is the greatest defense against criminality and tyranny. But I also believe we must take steps to ensure those experiencing mental health crises do not have access to weapons that can be used in mass casualty events,” McNally said in a statement.

“Any such order process must be efficiently constructed with sufficient due process and protection against false or fraudulent reporting. I believe it is possible to protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners while keeping guns out of the hands of people experiencing severe mental health crises.”

House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The governor’s remarks on Tuesday came amid heightened tensions in Tennessee after Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, both Black Democrats, were expelled from the General Assembly last week over their involvement in a protest against gun violence on the chamber floor. A third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, survived her expulsion vote.

The floor protest was in response to a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville that left six people dead, including three children.

Jones was reinstated Monday after a Nashville city council vote. The Shelby County Commission is expected to hold a similar vote for Pearson on Wednesday.

When asked about the expulsions of Jones and Pearson, which thrust the state into the national spotlight, Lee declined to comment directly on the events and instead said lawmakers were operating in an “emotionally charged environment” after last month’s mass shooting.

“We should be very serious about real solutions and about getting real solutions across the finish line, and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to do just that,” Lee said.

“We should work to set aside our differences and accomplish something that the Tennesseans want us to get accomplished,” he added.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Lee’s action Tuesday was influenced by Jones and Pearson’s expulsion.

The executive order signed by Lee requires entering criminal history information and court mental health information within 72 hours to the Tennessee Instant Check System or supplying that information to the state’s bureau of investigation. Courts will be required to submit similar information to the background check system.

The order also calls on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to examine the current process for purchasing firearms and issue a report within 60 days. “If there are changes needed, we can make those changes,” Lee said.

Originally published

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