The Tennessee State Capitol. Credit: Eric England/Nashville Scene/Special to the Banner

Gov. Bill Lee has called a special session for the Tennessee General Assembly to address firearm legislation. 

The move has been expected since the legislature’s adjournment on April 21. The Republican supermajority has been under pressure since the Covenant School shooting at the end of March, which left seven people dead including three young children. Over the ensuing weeks, the gallery of the House chamber was generally packed with teachers, students, parents and organizers begging for stricter gun legislation as lawmakers hurtled towards close of the session.

It was during this time that the Republican legislators moved to expel Democratic Representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson over actions they took to stand with the protestors, ultimately propelling the so-called “Tennessee Three” and their message into the National spotlight. The Metro Council returned Jones to Capitol Hill quickly.

But in the final week of the session, even despite calls from Lee for ‘extreme risk’ legislation, the protestors’ calls went unanswered. Lee expressed his intent to call a special session shortly after members of the legislature went home.

Despite the Republican governor’s openness to some form of gun legislation, most members of his party don’t seem to be on the same page. Shortly after Lee first called for action from the legislature on guns, Republican legislators voiced their opposition to any conversations surrounding gun legislation reform, even as Democrats praised Lee and expressed their intent to work across the aisle. And while Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) came out in support of some form of gun legislation, other members of his party’s leadership were not so open to the idea. 

In the session, however, Lee has not included any extreme risk protective orders (ERPO) legislation, but left open the possibility of a legislator introducing it.

In the lead-up to Lee calling the special session, members of the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee called for him to abandon the idea

It remains to be seen what will actually come of the special session. While a handful of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have proposed changes, they won’t get anywhere without backing from the Republican supermajority. And if the leading party chooses, a quorum might not even be reached. 

Here is the text of Gov. Lee’s proclamation, first obtained by the Tennessee Lookout and the Tennessee Journal:

WHEREAS, public safety is of prime importance to Tennesseans, and enhancing public safety requires a multi-faceted approach that likewise protects Constitutional rights; and

WHEREAS, Tennessee and our nation continue to experience acts of mass violence; and

WHEREAS, Tennesseans are experiencing mental health issues to an unprecedented degree, and this crisis affects not only those suffering from mental health issues, but also society at large; and

WHEREAS, in response to Executive Order 100, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation identified barriers to timely and accurate information sharing throughout the criminal Justice system, particularly regarding information that should be entered in state and national crime databases; and

WHEREAS, it is in the best interest of Tennessee that the General Assembly convene to expeditiously address these concerns.

NOW THEREFORE, I, Bill Lee,· Governor of the State of Tennessee, by virtue of the power and authority vested in me by Article III, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution, do hereby call the One Hundred Thirteenth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee to meet and convene in extraordinary session at the Capitol in Nashville on August 21, 2023, at 4:00 p.m., Central Time, to consider and act upon legislation regarding:

(1) Mental health resources, providers, commitments, or services;

(2) School safety plans or policies;

(3) Health care providers’ duty to warn about potential violent offenses;

(4) Offenses of committing acts of mass violence or threatening to commit acts of mass violence;

(5) Reports from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation regarding human trafficking;

(6) Identification of individuals arrested for felonies;

(7) Law enforcement’s access to criminal and juvenile records;

(8) Law enforcement’s access to information about individuals who are subject to mental
health commitment;

(9) Information about victims of violent offenses;

(10) Stalking offenses;

(11) Measures encouraging the safe storage of firearms, which do not include the creation
of penalties for failing to safely store firearms;

(12) Temporary mental health orders of protection, which must be initiated by law enforcement, must require a due process hearing, must require the respondent to undergo an assessment for suicidal or homicidal ideation, must require law enforcement to prove its case by clear and convincing evidence, must require that an order of protection be reevaluated at least every one-hundred eighty (180) days, and must not permit ex parte orders;

(13) The transfer of juvenile defendants aged sixteen (16) and older to courts with criminal jurisdiction, which must include appeal rights for the juveniles and the prosecuting authorities;

(14) Limiting the circumstances in which juvenile records may be expunged;

(15) Blended sentencing for juveniles;

(16) Offenses related to inducing or coercing a minor to commit an offense;

(17) The structure or operations of state or local courts· and

(18) Making appropriations sufficient to provide funding for any legislation that receives final passage during the extraordinary session; making appropriations sufficient to pay the expenses of the extraordinary session, including the expenses of carrying out any actions taken pursuant to this proclamation; making appropriations sufficient to support mental health initiatives; making appropriations for school safety grants, as described on page B-90 of the 2023-2024 Budget Document and in Section 54, Item 1-41, Section 60, Item 25, and Section 60, Item 26 of Chapter 418, Public Acts of 2023; and making appropriations to support school safety at institutions of higher education.’

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Tennessee to be affixed at Nashville on this 8th day of August, 2023.