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Tennessee governor's gun safety push is karma for the state's GOP

Tennessee Republicans threw a historic tantrum over advocacy for gun safety reform. Now the state's ultraconservative governor is calling for changes as well.


Just days after Tennessee Republicans expelled two Black lawmakers for protesting gun violence following the Nashville school shooting, the state’s Republican governor, Bill Lee, is backing a few gun safety reforms.  

“When there is a clear need for action, I think that we have an obligation to remind people that we should set aside politics and pride and accomplish something that the people of Tennessee want to get accomplished,” Lee said at a news conference Tuesday

The governor also signed an executive order that does the following: 

  • Requires relevant stakeholders to report criminal history and court mental health information to the state’s background check system or the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within 72 hours of receipt.
  • Requires courts to submit that information in a timely manner to the TBI.
  • Requires the TBI to review the background check process for purchasing firearms and submit a report within 60 days.

Lee also called on Tennessee lawmakers to broaden the state’s “order of protection” law. 

“Our current law is proven and effective in many circumstances, especially with regards to domestic violence, but this new stronger order of protection law will provide the broader population cover, safety, from those who are in danger to themselves or to the population,” Lee said.

It appears Lee’s personal ties to one of the Nashville victims could be a factor in this push. 

A day after the March 27 shooting, Lee revealed that one of the six people killed at The Covenant School was one of his wife’s best friends. Lee said Cindy Peak “was supposed to come over to have dinner” the same day she was killed.

While any progress on gun safety laws is welcome, it’s pretty disturbing that Lee may have waited until the issue caused acute pain to his family before addressing something that has affected countless others before him. 

That said, the governor’s new push does feel like a bit of karmic justice for Tennessee Republicans in the state Legislature, who just used extremely illiberal means to counter protests against gun violence. 

Republicans were so disgusted by these protests that they let their racist flags fly in order to oust two Black lawmakers who had taken part (while letting the white lawmaker who participated slide). 

And now, the state’s Republican governor — a conservative extremist in his own right — is basically saying, “Yeah, those protesters had a point.”

Both men have since been reinstated by local officials in their House districts. And now, the state’s Republican governor — a conservative extremist in his own right — is basically saying, “Yeah, those protesters had a point.” 

So that sets up a disastrous scenario for Tennessee Republicans. They can either retreat from their gun-loving posture and effectively concede yet another victory to Democrats — including Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, the lawmakers they sought to expel — or they can rebuff the governor’s call to action and appear even more right-wing than he is.

Both make for pretty poor optics. But the first option would, at least, allow Republicans to take a morally justifiable stance. 

Even if they were dragged there, kicking and screaming.