Memo shows TN governor blasting NRA stance on red flag laws

(AP Photo/John Locher, File)

The governor of Tennessee has a pretty decent pro-gun reputation, but now he’s pushing for a red flag law. He claims it’s not, but it is, even if it’s just a slightly less problematic one from a due process standpoint.


Yet a lot of people, including the NRA, think the better approach is to use a 5150 hold, confining supposedly dangerous people and giving them treatment.

These are very different approaches, to be sure, and a memo from the governor’s office shows what he really thinks of the NRA’s position.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s administration accused the National Rifle Association of wanting to use involuntary commitment laws “to round up mentally ill people and deprive them of other liberties,” according to documents drafted by the Republican’s staffers as part of their initial attempt to pass a gun control proposal earlier this year.

The memos, provided by Lee’s office as part of a public records request, reveal a rare criticism of the powerful gun lobby made by the Republican governor. Lee has previously praised the NRA’s efforts to protect the Second Amendment but has since faced opposition from the group as he works to pass gun control legislation in response to a deadly Nashville school shooting that took place in late March.

So far, Lee has proposed keeping firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others. He’s currently facing pushback from both the GOP-dominant General Assembly and firearms rights advocacy groups, including the NRA, that are wary of loosening gun laws in ruby red Tennessee. The NRA’s opposition is particularly notable because the group was a crucial player in Lee’s successful push in 2021 to pass a law that allows people 21 and older to carry handguns without a permit in Tennessee.


Now, I oppose what Lee’s trying to do.

Further, I’ve taken a similar position to the NRA’s. I think taking guns away from people while leaving supposedly dangerous folks walking around is stupid. And yes, dangerous.

However, Lee makes a good point. Taking people and locking them up involuntarily is bad enough–it is an infringement on their basic liberties, after all–but then those people are denied their Second Amendment rights indefinitely.

By that metric, Lee’s proposal is far less invasive on people’s gun rights.

Yet the basic problems with that proposal still remain.

Maybe what we need to do is revisit the lifetime denial of gun rights for a 5150 hold. After all, someone in a temporary crisis shouldn’t be denied a basic civil liberty for a lifetime.

Take, for example, a parent who loses their child. They’re despondent and consider taking their own life, but they’re involuntarily committed. As a result of that and the follow-on treatment, they learn to deal with their grief and no longer have any ideations of self-harm.

Should they be denied a gun for self-defense?

Not really.

Including some mechanism for restoring someone’s gun rights after, say, a given time period, might address that concern.


Or, at a minimum, mandating treatment for Gov. Lee’s proposal would address it. The NRA has previously argued that they could go along with a red flag law that included such a provision, even if they don’t particularly like it.

Honestly, I don’t know. I do think that we need to treat people who seem inclined to shoot up schools or churches or anywhere else but haven’t actually done it. I think we can do better in that regard than we currently do.

I also think it’s imperative we do it in a way that preserves the right to keep and bear arms. Whether Lee or the NRA get their way, the truth is that neither position being presented in this memo is a great way to do that.

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