Well, at least some of them are, and it sure looks like the opposition to Gov. Bill Lee’s “red flag” proposal is growing as we get closer to August 21st; the date when Lee says lawmakers will return to the capitol for a special session to respond to the Covenant School shooting in Nashville earlier this year.
Though we’re less than a month away from the start of that expected session, Lee has yet to officially call lawmakers back to the state capitol as his office works behind the scenes to garner support for his “temporary mental health restraining order”. Meanwhile, many Republican lawmakers are speaking out against the proposal, while still trying to provide some political cover to the governor himself.
About 100 people came out for a 2nd Amendment rally Saturday at the Enoch community building at the Henry County Fairgrounds to hear local and area GOP officials speak about the session.
… State Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, seemed confident the state Senate won’t be moved by Lee’s gun law proposals, which many Republicans have likened to a “red flag law.”
“The Senate is never going to walk back our 2nd Amendment rights,” he said. “Some of the leftists want this. Governor Lee is not a leftist.”
State Rep. Tandy Darby, R-Greenfield, also was careful not to criticize Lee in general, but only on this issue.
“I respect him, but I’m not on the same page as the governor on this. This looks like a red flag law,” said Darby.
Darby warned that on Aug. 21, when the special session begins, “all eyes will be on Tennessee. There’s nobody else in session (across the country).”
State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, who represents about a third of Henry County (Darby represents the rest), seemed unhappy a special session had been called at all.
“Some people think that, on August 21, we’re gonna solve all of Tennessee’s problems. No, we’re not,” Reedy said. “We’re just months away from our regular session, where we could have real in-depth conversations about this.”
Darby’s right that Tennessee’s special session will draw national attention, not only because even most full-time legislatures will be in recess when the session is slated to kick off in late August, but because of the topic at hand. Lee’s proposal for a “temporary mental health restraining order” isn’t going to be the only topic of discussion, and Democrats are expected to bring their own anti-gun bills to Nashville, including a more traditional “red flag” law, bans on gun sales to under-21s, and prohibiting the sale of so-called assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
Those bills won’t go far in the Republican-dominated legislature, but there are clearly a lot of conservatives who are worried about the political cost of standing pat. That’s why we’re starting to see some alternatives to Lee’s proposal emerge, including one piece of legislation that I believe would offer a substantial improvement to the status quo while still protecting Tennesseans’ Second Amendment rights. As we reported last week, Rep. Scott Cepcicky is proposing the state build nine new mental health facilities, each with 150 inpatient beds. That would almost quadruple the number of state-funded beds available for inpatient care, though at a price tag of nearly $500-million.
Cepcicky told the Tennessean newspaper that the outlay would be “a significant investment in providing opportunities for people to get the help they need in both inpatient, outpatient and long term care,” and he’s not wrong. Not everyone suffering from mental illness is a threat to the public or themselves (in fact, the vast majority of those diagnosed will never be accused of a violent crime), but they’re still suffering, and there’s an acute lack of care for those most in need of help. Cepcicky’s legislation, if approved, would mark a major step towards eliminating the crisis in mental health care in Tennessee, and could be an example for other states to follow.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Cepcicky’s legislation will be adopted, any more than Lee’s version of a red flag is guaranteed to go down in flames. Tennessee’s Republican majority are largely saying the right things now, but gun owners need to keep up their contacts and pressure for lawmakers to do the right thing if and when they return to the state capitol later this summer.