Saturday, April 22, 2023

From Tennessee Big City Mayors to Gov. Lee: Recommended Policy Actions to Reduce Gun Violence in Tennessee

April 19, 2023

To: Governor Bill Lee, Speaker Cameron Sexton, Lt. Governor Randy McNally

From: John Cooper, Mayor, Metropolitan Government of Nashville & Davidson County; Lee Harris, Mayor, Shelby County; Tim Kelly, Mayor, City of Chattanooga; Indya Kincannon, Mayor, City of Knoxville.

Subject: Recommended Policy Actions to Reduce Gun Violence in Tennessee

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Tennessee has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the country over the past four years. Tennessee ranks 9th in total deaths by firearms. Nearly 1,300 Tennesseans die each year from guns, and it is the leading cause of death among children and teenagers.

Nationwide data shows a clear correlation between the strength of a state’s gun laws and the rate of gun violence. For example, the six states with the strongest gun laws each rank among the eight safest states for the rate of gun violence.

Tennessee can save lives by implementing gun laws that have proven to be successful in other states. While evidence suggests that banning assault weapons should be a primary policy consideration, this memo outlines ten common sense policy recommendations we believe should earn bipartisan support to enact this legislative session.

We are encouraged by Governor Lee’s recent support for extreme risk laws after the tragic murders a few weeks ago at The Covenant School. Now is the moment to turn statements of support and sympathy into action. We can incorporate these policies into legislation immediately. Working together, we can keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them, and out of circumstances that are likely to result in more dead Tennesseans.

1. Require background checks for all gun purchases.

Tennessee should require point-of-sale background checks for all gun purchases, including rifles and shotguns.

This requirement would help close a loophole that currently allows felons and other people who are prohibited from possessing firearms to bypass a background check by buying a gun from an unlicensed seller.

A mandatory background check would screen to make sure the buyer is not legally prohibited from owning firearms due to criminal history.

20 states currently require background checks. Those state laws are associated with lower rates of homicide and suicide by firearm.

A recent poll showed that 88% of Tennesseans support background checks for gun sales.

2. Implement Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

Known as a “red flag” law, an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) empowers law enforcement and family members to intervene and temporarily prevent those at extreme risk of harming themselves or others from possessing guns.

Law enforcement and immediate family members could petition a civil court for an ERPO to temporarily remove guns the possession of those at serious risk of harming themselves or others. If a judge finds that there is sufficient evidence, that person is temporarily prohibited from purchasing and possessing guns. The guns they already own will also be held by law enforcement for the duration of the ERPO.

Once the immediate threat of harm to an individual or others is removed, individuals can petition to have the ERPO removed to ensure proper due process.

Tennessee should allow law enforcement to petition a civil court for an ERPO. Petitioners could also include immediate family members and medical professionals. 20 states have already implemented ERPOs.

A recent poll showed that 71% of Tennesseans support adopting red flag laws.

3. Enhanced safety of the concealed carry law.

Recognizing that Tennessee legislators support concealed carry without a permit, action can still be taken to protect Tennesseans without undoing our state’s overall policy on concealed carry. Tennessee should prohibit individuals who have been convicted of a violent misdemeanor offense from carrying a concealed firearm.

This policy change would follow states like Florida, which eliminated its permit requirement this session while still prohibiting people convicted of violent misdemeanors from carrying in public, but would stop short of banning gun purchases for violent misdemeanants (a law that 15 states including Alabama have in place).

The right to carry a concealed firearm should not be extended to members of society who have proven themselves to be violent. Tennessee should become the 24th state to bar concealed carry by people with violent misdemeanor convictions.

4. Establish a statewide minimum age for purchasing firearms.

Under Federal law, a gun buyer purchasing from a licensed firearm dealer must be 21 years old to buy a handgun and 18 to buy a long gun. Federal law prohibits someone under 18 from possessing a handgun, but there is no minimum purchase age for long guns bought from an unlicensed seller.

22 states have adopted higher minimum age laws for purchasing firearms. Florida is one of seven states that set the minimum age at 21 for all firearms purchases.

Tennessee should establish a minimum age of 21 to purchase handguns or any centerfire semiautomatic long gun. All other rifles (including .22 rimfire rifles) and shotguns could be purchased at 18 years of age. This policy will make sure that the firearms most likely to be used in violent crimes and mass shootings are less easily attainable for young people.

5. Require and enable secure storage of guns.

Secure storage laws reduce gun violence and firearm accidents. 25 states currently have laws to prevent children from gaining unauthorized access to firearms.

Tennessee should adopt a secure storage law that penalizes gun owners if a child (under 18 years old) or person prohibited from possessing firearms gains access to a firearm.

A recent poll showed that 82% of Tennesseans support adopting a safe storage laws.

The State of Tennessee should also provide funding to any city or county government interested in operating a distribution program for mailing gun locks to residents who request a lock. For example, Shelby County has given out 600 gun locks so far in 2023 at a total cost of less than $10,000.

6. Limit gun thefts from cars.

Gun thefts from cars are a common problem in Tennessee and contribute to further crime. Tennessee should take action to limit thefts of guns from cars by requiring cars containing a gun to be locked and for the gun to be stored inside a locked compartment within the vehicle.

7. Ban high-capacity magazines.

Limiting magazines to fewer rounds of ammunition requires a shooter to reload more often, thereby making it more difficult to inflict mass casualties. For reference, the shooter in the Covenant School shooting fired 152 rounds using high-capacity magazines. In the 2019 Dayton, Ohio shooting, the shooter used a drum magazine holding 100 rounds.

High-capacity magazines are typically defined as greater than 10 rounds. 14 states have laws banning high-capacity magazines. States with a ban on high-capacity magazines experience mass shootings at less than half the rate of states without restrictions.

8. Protect women by prohibiting convicted stalkers from owning guns.

Stalking is linked to the murder of women. 89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted had also been stalked in the 12 months before their murder. 54% of femicide victims reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers. (Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center)

People convicted of misdemeanor stalking in Tennessee can currently still own a gun. Tennessee should pass a law that prevents convicted stalkers from possessing a firearm. 20 states have laws that ban convicted stalkers from owning guns.

9. Provide funding for school threat assessment teams to keep schools safe.

School threat assessment teams are trained to identify warning signs and intervene before students commit acts of violence. Such programs are unanimously recommended by school safety experts. In 77% of school shootings, at least one person, most often the shooter’s classmate, had prior knowledge of the shooter’s plan.

Nine states require school threat assessment programs including Kentucky, Florida, and Texas. Numerous other school districts, such as Metro Nashville Public Schools, have implemented threat assessment programs even if not required by state law.

Tennessee already has a law that enables Local Educational Agencies (LEA) to adopt policies to establish threat assessment teams (Section 49-6-2701). The State of Tennessee should now provide funding for school districts who want to form school threat assessment teams to keep their students safe. Additional funding for SROs is helpful to this effort, but it is important to note that school threat assessment teams’ scope goes beyond law enforcement.

10. Require reporting of lost and stolen guns.

15 states require gun owners to promptly report to law enforcement if a gun is lost or stolen. These reporting requirements allow law enforcement to investigate and track down gun trafficking operations. Laws requiring reporting of lost and stolen guns can reduce illegal gun movement by 46%, according to one study.

Tennessee should require gun owners to report a stolen or missing gun within 72 hours of the incident. Such a law would not restrict gun rights, but evidence suggests it would reduce illegal gun sales by preventing people from claiming a gun was stolen or missing only after it was used in a crime.

Rod's Comment: I support many of these recommendations, especially those related to safe storage of guns and limiting theft from cars and required reporting of lost or stolen guns. I can support a red flag law if it contains due process protections. All of these proposals seem to be moderate common-sense proposals. All of these recommendations are worthy of consideration, study, and debate.  

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