Tennessee lawmakers open special session in wake of school shooting

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – Tennessee lawmakers on Monday opened a special session focused on public safety that was sparked by a deadly school shooting earlier this year, as hundreds of protesters marched on capitol grounds demanding change.

Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, called the special session and asked lawmakers to bolster so-called “red flag” laws aimed at making it more difficult for people deemed to be a threat to the public or themselves from having access to firearms. He has also called for measures to address mental health and encourage the safe storage of firearms.

But Republican lawmakers, who hold a supermajority in both of Tennessee’s legislative chambers, have consistently balked at the idea of passing new guns laws and showed no signs on Monday of giving in, saying the changes threaten citizens’ Constitutional right to own firearms.

Instead of addressing gun issues on Monday, lawmakers in the House passed new rules creating tougher penalties for lawmakers who break decorum rules while speaking on the House floor.

Hundreds of protesters demanding tougher gun laws arrived at the Tennessee capitol in Nashville. They were met by some armed counter-protesters, including members of the far-right Proud Boys group, who do not want to see any changes.

Lee called the special session in response to the murder of three children and three staff members at The Covenant School in March in Nashville.

The shooting triggered intense protests at the state capitol and led to the expulsion of two Democratic lawmakers after they helped lead protests from the House floor. The pair have since been reinstated.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper, a Democrat, said in a written statement on Monday that “after the tragic murders at The Covenant School, now is the moment for state lawmakers to turn statements of sympathy and prayers into action and leadership.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Mary Milliken and Stephen Coates)