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Gov. Bill Lee, in pivot, to sign order strengthening background checks, calls for red flag law

Gov. Bill Lee says he thinks it'll take compromise to get his idea to strengthen background checks for gun ownership across the finish line.
Blaise Gainey
Gov. Bill Lee says he thinks it'll take compromise to get his idea to strengthen background checks for gun ownership across the finish line.

Gov. Bill Lee is calling on the Tennessee legislature to pass a law that would restrict people who pose a threat to themselves or others from having access to guns. But while he is the chief of command in the state, if lawmakers aren’t on board, it won’t happen.

Currently, Tennessee’s order of protection law protects victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. Lee says the new law would be more expansive.

“This new stronger order of protection law will provide the broader population cover, safety from those that are a danger to themselves or to the population,” Lee said.

The governor also signed an executive order Tuesday. He says the goal is to increase the effectiveness of the state’s background check process. It does several things:

  • Establishes a 72-hour new crime reporting requirement
  • Requires courts to submit timely and accurate information to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Requires the TBI to examine the process for purchasing firearms and submit a report listing any changes needed within 60 days

This isn’t the first time an expansion of the state’s order of protection laws has been brought up in Tennessee. Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, filed a bill in 2021 that would’ve established red flag laws in the state. It wasn’t passed, and for the most part, leadership on the Republican side haven’t fully changed their stance. But Gov. Lee believes now’s the time to put egos to the side.

“It’s going to require coming together, laying down our previously held positions potentially,” Lee said.

But more so lately, there’s been pushback on the topic. Since the Covenant School shooting that left six dead, several protests for tightening gun restrictions by parents, teachers, kids and even elected Democrats have taken place at the capitol building. But the Senate Judiciary Chairman Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has said he wouldn’t take up any more gun legislation. To that, Lee says he thinks it’ll take compromise to get his idea across the finish line.

“It really is just going to require finding the things that we agree on together and moving forward with those things, and I suspect the chairman will do that,” Lee said.

While passing the Senate Judiciary may be a tough task, possibly tougher is getting House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to shift his ideas on red flag like laws. Sexton stood with Gov. Lee at a press conference last week to unveil his amended school safety proposal. It passed with bipartisan support last week. But Rep. Sexton, during that time, shot down the idea of adopting red flag laws unless they had a mental health treatment tied to it.

“If you don’t figure that part out, all it is is a gun confiscation plan,” Sexton said.

His counterpart in the other chamber, Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, has said that he would support red flag laws like the ones in Florida.

The Sunshine State added their red flag laws after the Parkland School shooting that left 17 dead and 17 injured.

Blaise Gainey is a Political Reporter for WPLN News. He is the youngest of three siblings, husband and father of two. He previously held the State Government Reporter position for WFSU News in Tallahassee. He is from Apopka, Fla., and graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He previously worked for The Florida Channel and WTXL-TV. He is excited to move to another capital and report on state government. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, outdoor activities and enjoying family time.
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