NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said Friday that a special lawmaking session dedicated to possible changes to the state's gun laws in the wake of a deadly school shooting last month would likely have to take place after July 4.
“I think the ideal solution is that we find a way to do what most people think is important, which is to make sure that people that are a threat to themselves or others because of a mental crisis, that people that are a threat do not have access to weapons,” the Republican governor told reporters in Covington on Friday.
The timeline comes after lawmakers sped up to finish their annual session last week without taking action on a gun control plan offered by Lee after the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, which killed three 9-year-olds and three adults at the Christian school.
Tennessee Republicans were facing national pressure after they expelled two young Black Democratic lawmakers for a protest over gun control on the state House floor, as protesters filled the galleries above. The lawmakers have since been reinstated. For weeks, students, parents, politicians and others protested for more restrictions to be added to Tennessee's gun-friendly laws at the Capitol.
Hours after lawmakers wrapped up their session April 21, Lee announced that he would call them back for the special session to work “to protect Tennessee communities and preserve constitutional rights.” His spokesperson, Jade Byers, said Friday that more details would be announced when they become available.
Lee's office has said he offered dates from May through August.
Lee has proposed the creation of a “temporary mental health order of protection," which aims to keep guns away from people who could harm themselves or others. Enough Republicans joined gun lobby groups in opposition to keep Lee’s proposal from coming to a vote last week.
Some on the other side of the guns debate argue that Lee’s proposed measure doesn't go far enough. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, said that the three-to-five-day period between when law enforcement would file a petition with a court to seize firearms and when a court hearing would generally occur under the proposal “could be the difference between life and death.”
Some Republican lawmakers have since said they want to review The Covenant School shooter's writings, which police have not yet released, before deciding how state law needs to be changed.
Lee told reporters Friday that he thinks “Tennesseans want clarity around this issue.” The day before, he said on Twitter that Nashville's police chief has assured him that the documents about the 28-year-old shooter will be “released to the public very soon.”
“The investigation has advanced to the point that writings from the Covenant shooter are now being reviewed for public release. That process is underway and will take a little time,” Metro Nashville Police Department spokesperson Kristin Mumford said in a statement Thursday.
The department has said that during the attack, the shooter fired 152 rounds before being killed by police.
Police say the shooter was under a doctor’s care for an undisclosed “emotional disorder.” However, authorities haven’t publicly stated a link between that care and the shooting. Police say the shooter was not on their radar before the attack.
Rep. John Ray Clemmons, the Democratic House Caucus Chairman from Nashville, called on lawmakers to “focus less on what was in a ‘manifesto’ and more on how we’re going to work together across the aisle to enact a law that will allow for the timely and temporary removal of firearms from individuals who pose a threat to themselves and others.”
Lee said top lawmakers gave input on his proposal and he argued it isn’t a “red flag law.” He called that term a “toxic political label meant to draw lines in the sand so nothing gets done.”
In a cool reception after the proposal's release, House Republicans didn’t appear to make a distinction on terminology, saying in a caucus statement that "any red flag law is a non-starter.”
After the shooting, lawmakers and Lee joined together on proposals that largely target student behavioral health measures and heightened school security, including funding for a school resource officer in every public school and grants for private school security.
The Covenant School, meanwhile, on Friday marked about a month since the shooting with a letter of gratitude.
“In short, we have been learning to navigate the new, forever-changed life before us,” the school posted on Facebook. “This internal focus has not, however, prevented us from feeling the awe-inspiring expressions of love and support from the Nashville community and across the nation.”
Sainz reported from Covington. Associated Press reporter Travis Loller contributed from Nashville.