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Tennessee Senate bans local governments from enacting red flag laws

From WKRN: No local governments will be able to pass ordinances that allow for extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) unless the state legislature

From WKRN: No local governments will be able to pass ordinances that allow for extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) unless the state legislature passes a law for them, so says the Tennessee Senate.


During its Thursday, April 11 session, the Senate approved SB2763, which prohibits all political subdivisions—meaning city and county governments—from enacting any laws, ordinances or resolutions that provide for ERPOs. The bill also prohibits local governments from accepting any grants tied to ERPO enforcement.


The bill was brought in the Senate by Tullahoma Republican Sen. Janice Bowling, who said the bill “creates uniformity across the state of Tennessee” during the floor debate Thursday.


“This bill will prevent various cities and municipalities across the state of Tennessee from enacting their own variation of a red flag or ERPO law within their jurisdiction,” she said. “Permitting that to happen would create chaos for gun owners and for the state and confusion for law enforcement, judges and prosecutors. Moreover, activists would be encouraged to forum shop in jurisdictions that support aggressive infringement on citizens’ gun rights.”


Initially, Bowling’s bill also declared any federal action on ERPOs would be considered null and void in Tennessee and create a Class A misdemeanor for any law enforcement officer who attempted to enforce an ERPO locally. Those portions of the bill were removed through a Senate Judiciary Committee amendment, according to Sen. Todd Gardenhire.


Opposition came strongly from Democrats in the chamber, with Nashville Sen. Heidi Campbell saying Florida’s ERPO law benefitted citizens in that state.


“For the past year, one of the main things that we have been dealing with up here at the Capitol are people telling us in no uncertain terms that they want us to make our state safer when it comes to our regulations on guns,” she said. “Yet, we seem to be going in a different direction, I guess, because we want to protect gun makers; I guess because we want to make it easier for them to sell more guns.”


Memphis Sen. Raumesh Akbari said the measure was yet another of the state “preempting local control.”


“While Tennessee is one state, we are many counties that range from rural, urban, and suburban, and we have our own individual needs,” she said. “It is a documented fact that extreme risk protection laws protect people from those who are a danger to themselves and others, those who have been deemed to be unable to have a weapon because they are at risk of killing themselves or killing other people.”


Abkari cited the shooter of Parkland High School, who had been brought to the attention of local law enforcement multiple times before he shot and killed 17 people and injured 17 more on Valentine’s Day in 2018. She also said she was disappointed the state was heading in this direction.


“There is a balance to the Second Amendment and the right for folks to be safe,” she said. “I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. But when you are a documented risk to other people, you are a documented risk to yourself, and you have a local governing body that’s duly elected by their peers and their voters and their constituents to pass some sort of ordinance or legislation, again this is the state preempting that effort.”


Nashville Sen. Jeff Yarbro said violent crime has actually “plummeted” in the last 15 years, but the number of children killed in homicides has risen in that same time by more than twice. That increase contributes to why people feel an increased sense of fear, he said, and the state should help them address that fear by doing “something meaningful.”


“This bill doesn’t do anything, at least not as intended, because local governments don’t have the ability to just issue orders without state laws. We’re not preempting anything,” he said. “If this were permissible there would be laws doing this all across the state right now.”


Instead, Yarbro said the bill was “adding insult” to the state’s lack of action on gun control.


“It’s a public statement of opposition against something that a year ago…a lot of members were willing to take seriously,” he said, referencing the will to take action following the Covenant School shooting. “There was a bipartisan group that included people from different regions across the state, leadership and non-leadership, to talk about this issue, and now we’re just making a public statement against it.”


The majority party, however, forged ahead. Bowling said federal action from the White House prompted the need for expediency.


“The intentions of the administration are clear: they intend to impose their will on the states through executive fiat to circumvent state legislators and to implement gun control at the local level,” Bowling said.


The bill ultimately passed 22-6, with two Republican senators joining all Democrats opposed. Sens. Art Swann (R-Maryville) and Page Walley (R-Savannah) were the two Republicans opposed, according to the Senate website.


The House version of the bill, brought by Rep. Jody Barrett (R-Dickson), is set for discussion in the Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday, April 16.