NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republican lawmakers hit an impasse Thursday just a few days into a special session sparked by a deadly school shooting in March, leaving little certainty about what they might ultimately pass, yet all but guaranteeing it won’t be any significant gun control change.
After advancing a few bills this week, the Senate quickly adjourned Thursday without taking up any more proposals, promising to come back Monday. The announcement prompted booing and jeers from the crowd of gun control advocates watching in the galleries.
Meanwhile, the House is continuing to churn through a full slate of other proposals, and the Senate has not pledged to take any of those up. The standoff has added fuel to an already emotional and chaotic special legislative session, where pro gun-control advocates are asking the GOP-dominant Statehouse to consider tweaking the state’s relaxed gun laws.
Instead, Republican legislative leaders have limited public access to the Capitol building and increased the presence of law enforcement. House Republicans attempted to ban the public from holding signs during floor and committee proceedings, but a Tennessee judge has since blocked that rule from being implemented.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally told reporters Thursday that senators will consider any bills the House may amend but held off from promising to making a compromise with the other chamber.
“We might be here for too long of a period of time,” McNally said. “We’re waiting to see what happens in the House.”
Legislative officials have said it costs nearly $60,000 a day when lawmakers are in session, but that cost does not take into account the added cost of the state troopers that have lined the walls of the Capitol and legislative offices over the past week.
Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee called lawmakers back into session after the March shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, where three children and three adults were killed. Lee had hoped to cobble together a coalition to pass his proposal to keep guns away from people who are judged to pose a threat to themselves or others, which he argued stopped well short of being a so-called red flag law.
Ultimately, no Republican would even sponsor the bill, and Democratic versions of it were spiked this week without any debate.
Beyond that, the governor has proposed some smaller changes, some of which the Senate has passed. They would incentivize people to use safe gun storage items; require an annual human trafficking report; etch into state law some changes to background checks already made by an order of the governor; and set aside more state money for school resource officers, and bonuses and scholarships for behavioral professionals.
House Republicans have taken up much more, with some openly grieving the seeming demise of their bills due to lack of action in the Senate. There have been failed efforts by pockets of Republicans in both the House and Senate to adjourn the session as early as the first day on Monday, arguing there was no emergency reason to go to work.
Some of the House proposals would require that juveniles 16-year-old or older be charged as adults in murder or attempted murder cases, shield the public disclosure of autopsies of child homicide victims, and other bills.
The House had considered, but stopped advancing, two bills to allow more teachers and staff, or members of the broader public with carry permits, to bring guns into public K-12 schools. Some bills about armed security in schools remain alive, including a proposal that would let local law enforcement leaders decide on their own whether to place officers in schools that don’t already have school resource officers.
“At this point, the Senate haven’t put forth a single idea that’s theirs,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton told reporters from the House floor. “So maybe next week they’ll come back and do something.”
As Sexton spoke, a handful of people started shouting down at the Republican from public galleries, screaming that he should resign from his position. Sexton did not address the calls.
Tennessee Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, chairwoman of the Senate Democrats, issued a statement reacting to the first four days of Gov. Lee’s special session on public safety.
“Like many concerned parents, we came to this special session to fight for legislation to protect our children from gun violence. But Republicans would not even allow a debate on real gun safety solutions. It’s an embarrassment. This special session has been an insult to victims and survivors of gun violence.”
(This Associated Press story by Jonathan Mattise and Kimberlee Kruesi. It includes a report by The New Tri-State Defender.)