Chants of "gun reform now" were heard on the Tennessee Capital steps and inside as hundreds gathered demanding change in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting on Monday.
Gun laws have been relaxed in recent years by the state's Republican supermajority. GOP leadership said Thursday they were open to discussing any options on the table, with Senate speaker Lt. Gov. Randy McNally indicating he would support a red flag law, but it remains to be seen what legislative action may advance after the school shooting that left three children and three staff dead.
Before the shooting, a federal judge quietly cleared the way to drop the minimum age for Tennesseans to carry handguns publicly without a permit to 18 — just two years after a new law set the age at 21.
The outcry in Tennessee is just the latest instance of demand for gun reform in the wake of a mass shooting at a school. But it is a cry so loud that it disturbed the usual agenda at the Capitol on Thursday.
So just what are the gun laws in Tennessee?
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In 2021, Gov. Bill Lee lead the charge to allow any resident 21 years and older to carry handguns in public without a permit, but for some that wasn't enough.
A lawsuit from a gun rights group arguing the minimum age should be 18 was filed shortly after the passing of Lee's law. By the end of 2022, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s office negotiated a settlement rather than defend the law, citing last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling expanding gun rights, according to the Associated Press.
The deal proposed would allow 18- to 20-year-olds to carry handguns publicly.
On Monday, that agreement was approved as children lost their lives to gun violence.
Republicans are moving to change the law so it reflects the court deal.
Cries for TN gun reform disturb House proceedings
On Thursday, Democrats called for "common-sense reforms" including red flag laws and background checks. These were ignored and the agenda proceeded.
But as the morning moved on, the House floor descended into chaos after House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, repeatedly gaveled down members of the public in the gallery and two outspoken freshman Democrats who continually called for colleagues to address gun reform.
"I'm asking you to do your job," one woman screamed from the gallery. "There is blood on your hands. Do your job."
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TN gun bills in the wake of a school shooting
At least two General Assembly committees delayed gun-related bills on Tuesday in the wake of the deadly shooting at Covenant School.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, told a committee "we need to be respectful" of the slain members of The Covenant School community.
One of the bills would allow any adult to carry any firearm, even a semi-automatic assault style rifle, without a permit. Tennessee Highway Patrol opposed the bill, leading the Senate to tailor the law to handguns only, but House leadership last week said they hoped to preserve the overarching "firearm" language.
No discussion on this bill happened on Thursday.
Is an assault weapon ban or other restrictions effective?
The outcry for gun reform came from the Tennessee public and also Democrats in the House, but it is unlikely tighter control will come to the state.
A question now is, do bans and restrictions work?
In 1994, an assault weapon ban was passed by the federal government and lasted for 10 years. A 2019 study out of New York University’s School of Medicine found that mass shooting deaths involving assault weapons fell slightly in the decade of the federal assault weapon ban, and then rose dramatically in the decade that followed.
While other researchers said the decline during the ban was too small to draw firm conclusions about the ban’s impact, there is no debate that the pace and deadliness of mass shootings rose after the ban ended.
Does Tennessee have a "red flag" law?
A "red flag" law is a gun violence prevention law used by states in order for law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.
Tennessee does not have a "red flag" law in place.
The Associated Press and The Statesman contributed to this report.
Joyce Orlando is an Audience Specialist with the South Region Audience Team with The Tennessean. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Nashville school shooting sparks gun reform cry. What are TN gun laws?