Tennessee GOP committee warns governor on special session

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, Pool)

If Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was hoping to bring his fellow Republicans around on the idea of a special session to pass his version of a “red flag” law and other gun-related legislation before officially calling the session into being, his hopes were dashed this weekend when the state’s Republican Party Executive Committee adopted a resolution instead asking the governor to drop his plans altogether.


According to the Chattanooga Free Press, the resolution’s language was suggested by committee member Tina Bensiker, who says she’s concerned that many of the ideas that have been floated would violate the rights of Tennessee residents, while failing to take a bite out of violent crime.

“I feel at this point a lot of this is really emotion as opposed to rational and reasoned,” Benkiser added. “My concern, and a lot of others’ concerns, is that some of the proposals we’ve heard really violate due process of law. And that is a fundamental concern. And when you start talking about potentially infringing on people’s constitutional rights, that needs to be thought out over a long period of time with people who have thought, debated, looked at the language and fleshed all that out. Not something to be rushed through.”

Benkiser said she hopes Lee will take heed of the GOP action.

“I understand that people sometimes act out of emotion when something horrendous has happened, as happened here in Nashville, but really to friends of his. I understand that, and I think the natural reaction is to want to do something and to want to do something now. But like I said, when you’re talking about constitutional rights, at the end of the day, you need to take the time to think that out.”

Other committee members are concerned that the statehouse could turn into a circus once the special session gets underway, pointing to the protests on the floor of the state House earlier this year that resulted in the expulsion of two Democratic lawmakers. Those legislators recently won special elections in their heavily Democratic districts and are vowing to introduce a host of gun control measures during the special session, and some on the GOP Executive Committee believe the special session would once again inflame tensions and create a flashpoint for anti-gun activists to rally around.


Committee member John Stanbery of Cleveland told the Times Free Press that legislators had an opportunity to pass the order of protection bill when they were in regular session and chose not to.

“So I personally do not know why you would call them back to do something they’ve already rejected,” Stanbery said. “They rejected it by choosing not to do it. Secondly, I think it paints a target on all their backs. I think they’re going to come up here and have to walk a gantlet. And a lot of it will be out-of-state people. And so I think it puts an unreasonable strain not only on government but their safety and security.”

State GOP Chairman Scott Golden told two reporters following the meeting that his sense of executive committee members’ feelings is they’d prefer not to have the special session but be able to address firearms issues during their regular session that starts in January.

“We’ll send [the resolution] as soon as we get the final language and everything, we’ll send it to the governor and all the appropriate officials the sense of where the Republican Party” is, Golden said.

Asked what effect the resolution would have, Golden said he personally has no knowledge of where things stand with Lee. But he noted he had spoken with enough legislators to know they don’t feel comfortable with everything going on.

“So I think our members are very reflective, they talk to their legislators as well, and I think that was the sense of what the Tennessee Republican Party said today,” Golden said.


The governor himself, meanwhile, has been pretty tight-lipped about the particulars of the session, though he’s been holding closed-door meetings with various lawmakers as they strategize on a legislative to-do list. We’re now two weeks away from the supposed start date, and we’ve yet to see any official draft of the governor’s “temporary mental health restraining order” or other gun-related bills. If and when the session begins lawmakers are expected to work swiftly on an  untold number of bills, none of which the public has been able to peruse and comment on.

I don’t know if this resolution will have any effect on the governor’s decision, but the closer we get to August 21st without seeing the particulars of what lawmakers will be proposing, the more opposition we can expect on the ground in Tennessee. Gun owners across the state shouldn’t wait for Lee to make the official call either. Now’s the time to chat up your state representative or senator and demand they hold firm on protecting your Second Amendment rights. If the session does take place there might be some bills worth supporting, like the idea to build nine new state-run mental health facilities to help address the critical shortage of acute mental health care, but any attempt to address violent crime by criminalizing the rights of responsible gun owners should be rejected outright by the legislature’s Republican majority, and those lawmakers need to hear from their constituents now if gun owners are going to survive the session with their rights intact.


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