Safer TN’s advocacy efforts show impact through passage of new laws aimed at preventing firearm tragedies and prevention of bills that threatened the safety of Tennesseans

Following the adjournment of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly, Voices for a Safer Tennessee (Safer TN) said they “incremental progress in Tennessee lawmakers’ enactment of some productive changes to advance firearm safety and their rejection of several dangerous bills.” 

Safer TN, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving firearm safety and promoting responsible firearm ownership, is actively engaged in the legislative process through its coalition of concerned parents, faith leaders, hunters, educators, veterans, gun owners and Tennesseans from all walks of life. 

The organization says, “stopping legislation that would have allowed the permitless open carry of loaded long guns, while passing legislation to delay until age 25 legal firearm ownership for those with histories of violent juvenile crime, are two of several meaningful steps forward lawmakers took this session.”

Though subtle, SaferTN says the shift in the debate is encouraging.  

“We’re seeing a subtle, but significant shift in the debate over firearm safety in the legislature,” said Erin Rogus, policy director for SaferTN. “We’re encouraged by the willingness of Governor Lee, along with the House and Senate leadership, to sit down with us and consider data-driven policies that will lift Tennessee out of the bottom tier of deadliest states in the U.S. for death by firearm, especially among children. There is an openness to addressing the problem that perhaps wasn’t there before the Covenant School tragedy in March 2023.”

According to a release, Safer TN’s leadership recently met with Governor Lee to “thank him for including funding in his budget to reduce the backlog of more than 761,000 background check records currently unprocessed by the state, and for funding “Jillian’s Law” in his budget amendment to address a dangerous gap in the state’s background check system.”

 SaferTn says they have built a reputation for honesty in dialogue with policymakers.

“In Voices for a Safer Tennessee’s first year of existence, we’ve built a reputation for honest, respectful dialogue with policymakers and demonstrated a focus on enacting laws that save lives and preserve the Second Amendment,” shared Safer TN board chair Todd Cruse. “We’re not finished with our work, and lawmakers know when they return, we’ll be back to continue the conversation.”

Legislators sent several bills to the Governor for his signature that are central to long-term change: 

  • Jillian’s Law (HB1640 / SB1769) prohibits the purchase or possession of firearms by individuals deemed by a court to be incompetent to stand trial and establishes a process for involuntary committal of those who are incompetent and pose a danger to themselves or others. It’s named for Belmont University student Jillian Ludwig, who tragically lost her life last November to shots fired by a mentally incompetent individual. Safer TN appreciates Governor Lee signing this into law on April 24th. 
  • HB1600 / SB2911 prohibits until age 25 the purchase or possession of a firearm by anyone with a violent criminal or mental health adjudication as a juvenile. This legislation is arguably the most significant policy to prevent juvenile and young adult crime the state has seen. It’s a major win for community safety, as studies show those ages 18-20 are most likely to commit homicide by firearm and are at elevated risk for suicide by firearm. 
  • The Chris Wright Act (HB2323 / SB2155) increases sentencing guidelines for repeat misdemeanor offenders, making the sixth qualifying misdemeanor a Class E felony after five previous misdemeanor convictions. Convicted felons are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms. This legislation was introduced in response to the tragic shooting of community business leader Chris Wright in Chattanooga, who was killed by a violent individual with 27 misdemeanors, but because he wasn’t a convicted felon, he legally possessed a firearm.
  • HB1846 / SB1657 requires an annual report by the state on the total number of firearm injuries and deaths per 100,000 people, which will provide more substantive data on firearm tragedies in our state.
  • HB 2198 / SB2263 increases the penalty for threatening to commit an act of mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony, giving law enforcement a useful tool to better investigate and charge these types of threats.

Safer TN says it also “worked tirelessly” to stop several bills that would have “further eroded firearm safety laws,” including: 

  • The bill (HB2082 / SB2502) that would have allowed the permitless open carry of loaded long guns in public spaces, as well as several bills that would have allowed those with carry permits to carry handguns in posted places of business – directly at odds with property owners’ rights and the rights of business owners to determine their own safety needs. 
  • And notably, a constitutional amendment (HJR38 / SJR904) failed to advance that would have removed the language that gives the Legislature “the power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.”
  • Also, HB1202 / SB1325, which was opposed by Safer TN, ultimately passed with significant safety and training requirements that must be met before school personnel are allowed to carry firearms. If enacted these restrictions, which include giving school districts the ability to opt-out of the program entirely, make it likely the impact of the legislation will be limited. Safer TN plans to engage its coalition to share with school districts and local law enforcement data on why adding firearms to gun-free zones does not make Tennesseans safer, so schools can make evidence-informed decisions on this new program. 

”We would not have seen this steady and serious progress without the tireless efforts of the more than 250 Safer TN volunteers who maintained a consistent, visible presence at House and Senate Committee hearings and in meetings with legislators, as well the countless members of the coalition statewide who called and wrote to legislators urging their support of Safer TN’s policy priorities,” said Claudia Huskey, executive director of SaferTN. “Polls show that most Tennesseans favor pragmatic firearm safety measures. Our voices are making a difference.”

Image by aleksandarlittlewolf on Freepik.

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