People pray at a makeshift memorial at the entrance to The Covenant School on March 29 in Nashville, Tenn. Six people, including three children, were killed in the shooting. Tennessee is one of the deadliest states for gun violence and has some of the most lax gun measures in the country. Wade Payne/Associated Press

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, R, on Tuesday signed an executive order attempting to strengthen the state’s background checks for gun purchases. He also called on state lawmakers to pass what are known as red flag laws that would temporarily remove guns from people deemed dangerous.

Lee’s announcement comes two weeks after six people, including three children, were killed at a private Christian school in Nashville, setting off statewide protests and calls for gun reform.

“This is our moment to lead and to give the people of Tennessee what they deserve,” Lee told reporters during a news conference to honor Nashville officers who responded to the shooting at the Covenant School on March 27.

The executive order, Lee said, would attempt to beef up background checks by requiring that criminal activity by a gun owner be reported to authorities. It would also require the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to examine the state’s current process for purchasing firearms and submit a report within 60 days.

It is time to listen to voters calling for gun reform, Lee said. “It’s going to require coming together, laying down our previously held positions, potentially,” he said.

Tennessee is one of the deadliest states for gun violence and has some of the most lax gun measures in the country. A 2021 bill that would have established red flag laws in the state failed.


The shooter at the elementary school, former student Audrey Hale, 28, was under a doctor’s care for an “emotional disorder,” at the time of the rampage, according to Nashville police. Hale legally purchased seven weapons from five local stores and later sold one of the firearms. Three of those were used in the rampage, Nashville police said.

“The existing background-check process for purchasing a firearm only works when there is accurate and timely information that’s available,” Lee said.

Lee stopped short of using the politically fraught term “red flag laws,” which is unpopular among many conservative Republicans, to describe his executive order. He also declined to say Tuesday if he had found sponsors among state lawmakers, who would need to approve some of the proposed measures.

The Tennessee Firearms Association, which calls itself a “no-compromise gun organization,” dismissed Lee’s efforts. “In the past week, gun control advocates and abolitionists have taken advantage of the intentional murder of innocent victims at a private school in order to renewed their agenda to eliminate as much possible civilian firearms ownership,” the group said in a statement.

Gov. Bill Lee holds a news conference on a gun control executive order Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. “This is our moment to lead and to give the people of Tennessee what they deserve,” he said. George Walker IV/Associated Press

Gun control advocates said they were cautiously optimistic about Lee’s order, calling it a victory following massive protests for gun control that followed the Covenant school shooting. Last week, students walked out of more than 300 schools across 40 states as part of the protests.

“It’s long past time Tennessee lawmakers took action to keep us safe, and we’re hopeful that today’s call to action will give legislators the push they need to take lifesaving action,” said Bobbi Sloan, a volunteer with Students Demand Action and a student at Vanderbilt University.


Added Leeann Hewlett, a volunteer with the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action, “For our teachers, children, family and friends, this is an important first step on a long journey to protect Tennesseans against reckless acts of gun violence. This is not when we stop, but when we get louder.”

The order comes amid significant political turmoil in the state. Last week, House Republicans expelled two Black Democratic lawmakers for leading a protest on the chamber floor for gun reform. One of the lawmakers, Rep. Justin Jones, was reappointed to his seat by Nashville’s Metro Council on Monday. The Shelby County Commission on Wednesday is expected to take up the reappointment of the other lawmaker, former representative Justin Pearson.

Lee sidestepped questions Tuesday on whether the lawmakers’ expulsion was appropriate action but said that he hoped his proposals would win “bipartisan support” in the legislature.

It also comes amid another mass shooting in a nearby state. In Louisville, five people were killed and eight wounded when a 25-year-old bank employee open fired at a downtown bank on Monday.

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