Tennesseans rallied at the Capitol showing support for gun safety reform this spring. Photo: Tennessee Lookout

Democrats introduce gun safety reforms to keep kids, families safe

204 people, including 24 children, have died from gunshot wounds since the G.O.P. ended session April 21

5 min readAug 18, 2023

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NASHVILLE — Democratic lawmakers will introduce a slate of bills at the Aug. 21 special session to keep families and kids safe from gun violence.

After The Covenant School shooting this spring and a summer filled with deadly shootings across the state, Democratic lawmakers say their legislation is focused on one goal: preventing gun violence.

“Our families want gun reform that saves lives by preventing future shootings and that’s exactly what we’re going to fight for in the special session,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the Senate minority leader. “We know the controlling party doesn’t want to address the elephant in the room, but the facts are undeniable: Easy access to firearms is killing our kids and loved ones more than ever. It’s time to protect our families.”

Their legislative package includes universal background checks, a red flag law, safe storage requirements and repealing the disastrous “guns in trunks” law, as well as several other popular gun safety proposals.

“Tennesseans all across this state are calling for common sense gun safety reforms to protect kids by name,” said Sen. London Lamar, the Senate Democratic caucus chairwoman. “We owe the Covenant families and the thousands of Tennesseans who are affected by gun violence a real debate on these life-saving policies.”

In addition to the tragedy at The Covenant School, Democrats point to increasing gun violence throughout the state as a reason to take action. For instance, gunshot wounds were the leading cause of death for children in Tennessee, according to state health officials.

But the carnage does not end with children. The CDC’s most recent annual data shows Tennessee had the 11th highest firearm fatality rate in the nation — eclipsing the national rate by 58 percent. Tennessee was ranked seventh highest in the nation for firearm homicides.

Democrats have also been tracking recent gun violence in the state since the majority party ended the spring legislative session on April 21 without passing any new firearm safety reform.

Their website, TNUnderTheGun.com, which compiles public news reports on shootings, shows that at least 204 people, including 24 children, have died from gunshot wounds since April 21. An additional 389 people, including 38 children, have been wounded by gunfire.

“As a parent with school-age children, I share the frustration of moms and dads who are tired of living in fear that their children could be taken from them by gun violence,” said Sen. Charlane Oliver, vice chairwoman of the Senate Democrats. “There are clear, preventable steps we can take to save lives, protect our kids and make our communities safer, and it would be irresponsible to miss this moment.”

Despite broad, bipartisan support for gun safety policies outside the legislature, Democrats are aware they’re fighting an uphill battle to get these bills approved by the recalcitrant supermajority.

“The controlling party wants this special session to be about everything except gun reform. But there’s only one reason we’re here and that’s because six people were murdered at The Covenant School by a person who should not have had access to guns, let alone an AR-15,” said Sen. Heidi Campbell. “The people want us to enact common sense gun regulations and there is still time to do the right thing.”

Sen. Sara Kyle echoed that sentiment: “We’re going to keep working on gun safety reform until we address this public health crisis by restoring some common sense to our laws.”

Sen. Jeff Yarbro put it bluntly: “If we can’t meaningfully respond to the mandate to save children, what is the point of having a damn legislature?”

To keep guns out of the hands of people who would harm others, the House and Senate Democratic caucuses are sponsoring several, evidence-based bills, including:

  • Universal background checks for gun purchases. This legislation would require that every person purchasing a gun, including from a private owner, pass a criminal background check to complete the sale.
  • Extreme risk protection order. An extreme risk protection order, or ERPO, provides families and law enforcement a legal path, through a local court, to remove firearms temporarily from a person who poses a credible danger to themselves or others.
  • Re-establish gun permits for going armed in public. This bill would require persons, who want to go armed in public, to obtain a permit that verifies they have completed gun safety training and passed a criminal background check.
  • Repeal “guns in trunks” law. This bill would re-establish the right of private business owners to prohibit firearms on their private property — even firearms that are stored in a worker or customer’s vehicle. Tennessee’s “guns in trunks” law stole this right from private property owners a decade ago. With record numbers of unlocked guns being stolen out of vehicles, police say, this law is supercharging the number of illicit firearms in our communities.
  • Makayla’s law for safe firearm storage. This legislation, named after a child who killed herself with an unlocked firearm, would establish the penalty of reckless endangerment when a gun owner fails to safely store a firearm and a child younger than 13 years injures themselves or someone else with that unlocked gun.
  • Ban on “machine gun”-style conversion kits. This bill would ban the sale and possession of conversion kits that increase the firing rate of a semi-automatic rifle to simulate a fully automatic machine gun.
  • Close the firearm surrender loophole. This bill would eliminate third-party dispossession as an option for offenders who are legally required to surrender their firearms. Under state and federal law, persons convicted of certain offenses, such as domestic assault, are legally prohibited from owning firearms. In Tennessee, offenders can surrender their firearms to law enforcement, sell them to a licensed gun dealer or transfer the firearms to an unnamed third party. Tennessee is one of only 13 states that allow third-party transfers, but it is the only state that does not require information about the third party to be submitted to the court.

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