NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s administration has accused the National Rifle Association of wanting to use involuntary recognizance laws “to round up the mentally ill and deprive them of other freedoms,” according to written documents. by Republican 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 it strives to pass gun control legislation in response to a shooting. death at a Nashville school that took place in late March.
So far, Lee has offered to keep guns away from people who could hurt themselves or others. He currently faces pushback from the GOP-dominated General Assembly and gun rights groups, including the NRA, who are reluctant to relax gun laws in red Tennessee. ruby. 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 license in Tennessee.
This means Lee has been forced to go on the defensive, arguing that what he has proposed is not, in fact, a so-called red flag law like those passed by other states in the wake of tragedies. . Instead, the talking points show him trying to sell his proposal as “the most conservative in the country” and the best plan for “Second Amendment advocates.” It also targets advocates who want to focus on Tennessee laws that allow people to be hired without their permission if they show “a substantial likelihood of serious harm” due to “serious mental illness or emotional disturbance.”
“Not only is the NRA’s proposal impractical, it would significantly expand the government’s reach,” read one of the memos.
Publicly announcing his plan in April, Lee acknowledged supporters of the involuntary engagement, but did not name the NRA.
“Some Second Amendment supporters say something called ‘involuntary engagement’ is the answer, but that would restrict all sorts of constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment,” Lee said at the time. “It’s not the best way.”
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, House Speaker Cameron Sexton further lowered expectations that Lee’s proposal has a chance of passing, saying he doesn’t think he and his fellow Republican lawmakers support red flag laws. He said that other policy areas could be considered: involuntary commitment, more mental health inpatient beds, better updating of the database for background checks, a new offense at the level of the state beyond federal law prohibiting felons from having a certain amount of ammunition, and expand state law so that more types of violent threats can be considered a crime.
“When you look at what the NRA says, do you have any laws on the books right now — emergency, involuntary commitment,” Sexton told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “And then, use what you have.”
The governor originally unveiled his legislation just weeks after six people – including three young children – were killed in a shooting at a Nashville school. Lee’s wife, Maria, was friends with the school principal and a substitute teacher who were among those killed.
Despite Lee’s insistence that lawmakers adopt his proposal, GOP leaders resisted. The legislature adjourned without addressing the issue in April, but Lee has since called on them to return to address the issue in late August.
Documents reviewed by AP show that the Lee administration drafted the talking points in April. They tout the governor’s proposal as “more focused and more limited” than what the NRA currently supports. It’s unclear where the memos were circulated or how many people outside of Lee’s office received them.
In the memo, Lee’s office wrote that the NRA plan “doesn’t get to the heart of the matter, because it doesn’t address unstable people who have mental health issues but aren’t eligible for involuntary commitment to an institution”.
“Governor. Lee believes the best way forward is to find practical and thoughtful solutions to keep communities safe and protect constitutional rights,” his spokesperson, Jade Byers, said in an emailed statement. “He looks forward to speaking with key stakeholders, including the NRA, and working with lawmakers on the proposals in the months ahead.
In an April memo, the NRA’s lobbying arm urged its supporters to oppose Lee’s plan. The group noted that “Tennessee already has extensive civil engagement laws” and added that the state could improve access to emergency mental health services.
Asked about the governor’s office talking points about their group, NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter did not respond to the claims, saying in a statement that the group is focused on “the preservation and promoting the rights of law-abiding gun owners in Tennessee”.