Tennessee Senate Makes a Preemptive Strike on 'Red Flag' Laws

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After the Covenant School shooting last March, legislators were quick to reject Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's call for his version of a "red flag" law. In fact, opposition was so widespread that Lee didn't even bother including the proposal in his agenda when he called lawmakers back to Nashville for a special session last summer. 


The governor hasn't tried to revive the measure since, but Senate Republicans are concerned that anti-gun officials in cities like Memphis might try to enact their own local version of an Extreme Risk Protection Order law, and they're making a preemptive strike to scuttle any such efforts. 

During its Thursday, April 11 session, the Senate approved SB2763, which prohibits all political subdivisions—meaning city and county governments—from enacting any laws, ordinances or resolutions that provide for ERPOs. The bill also prohibits local governments from accepting any grants tied to ERPO enforcement.

The bill was brought in the Senate by Tullahoma Republican Sen. Janice Bowling, who said the bill “creates uniformity across the state of Tennessee” during the floor debate Thursday. 

“This bill will prevent various cities and municipalities across the state of Tennessee from enacting their own variation of a red flag or ERPO law within their jurisdiction,” she said. “Permitting that to happen would create chaos for gun owners and for the state and confusion for law enforcement, judges and prosecutors. Moreover, activists would be encouraged to forum shop in jurisdictions that support aggressive infringement on citizens’ gun rights.”


While Democrats complained that the bill is an attack on local control, Bowling is right that allowing localities to set up their own "red flag" law is a recipe for chaos. Even setting aside all of the due process and Second Amendment concerns over ERPO laws in general, a municipal (or countywide) "red flag" law just doesn't make sense. 

Let's say Memphis established its own ERPO process requiring gun owners subject to a "red flag" petition to hand over all of their lawfully-owned firearms and forbidding them from purchasing a gun within the city's jurisdiction until the order has expired. What would stop that individual from simply driving to a Memphis suburb and purchasing a gun from a shop beyond Memphis's borders? What happens if the person who was "red flag" moves to another city? 

Generally speaking, it's states, not cities, that report disqualifications with the National Instant Check System, so it would likely be up to the state of Tennessee to alert NICS to any or all locally-approved ERPO petitions. That's not likely to happen, even without the Senate's bill, so any local "red flag" law would be utterly toothless, at least when it comes to preventing the subject of a petition from acquiring a gun going forward. 


And of course, like every "red flag" law in existence, any local ordinance would only deal with firearms owned by a person deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others. The dangerous person would be free and clear to possess knives, gasoline, matches, rope, or anything else they might use as a weapon. 

The Memphis City Council has approved an August referendum where residents will be asked if they support the establishment of a "red flag" law, along with requiring a permit to carry and a local "assault weapons" ban, so the idea of a locally-imposed ERPO ordinance isn't just a theoretical possibility. The Tennessee Senate has done its job to ensure Memphis residents won't be subject to the whims of the anti-gunners. Here's hoping the House soon follows suit. 

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