Following a deadly school shooting last month, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee have passed a proposal that would protect gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits.
The measure now heads to Gov. Bill Lee, despite pushback from Democratic lawmakers saying their GOP counterparts are trying to shield gun companies just weeks after the Nashville school shooting that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds.
Lawmakers are hurrying to finish a legislative session as soon as this week while receiving national scrutiny over the expulsion of two young Black lawmakers — who are now reinstated — over a House floor gun control protest. Students, parents and others have also applied pressure for weeks to pass gun safety measures.
London Lamar, a Memphis lawmaker, said it’s “disrespectful timing” to push through protections for gun companies while people continue to march at the Capitol for gun control changes.
“I am challenging you not to pass this bill because we need to do more to protect citizens from gun violence than the people making the guns that people can use to kill more people,” Lamar said.
The bill’s sponsor, Joey Hensley, said his legislation doesn’t prevent any other proposal from passing.
“This is just to try to help businesses in this state that have chosen to come here, to give them a little civil liability,” Hensley said.
The bill spells out a half-dozen situations in which gun and ammo companies could be held civilly liable in state courts, exempting others.
Audrey Hale, 28, opened fire on students and staff last month at The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville.
Nashville Police Chief John Drake told “CBS Mornings” that authorities found a booklet that detailed the entry point into the school, the weapons Hale used and the clothing that the shooter wore during the attack. The maps found were detailed, Drake said, with possible entry routes and surveillance notes.
Drake said that the shooter may have had other targets, including a local mall. Maps found at the shooter’s home turned up more maps “pertaining to maybe some thinking about some other incidents,” he said.
Federal law already shields gun businesses
The firearm industry remains largely shielded from liability under federal law. Seventeen states do not have special immunity for the gun industry, and Tennessee is already not among them, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group.
Last year, Remington, the company that made the rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, settled with the families of those killed in the shooting for $73 million. The families had accused the company of targeting younger, at-risk males in advertising and product placement in violent video games.
In February, families of those killed and injured in a 2018 Texas high school shooting settled a lawsuit they filed against a Tennessee-based online retailer, Lucky Gunner, that was accused of illegally selling ammunition to the student who authorities say fatally shot 10 people.
“There are people that we should be going out of our way to protect this week,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said. “And we’ve been receiving emails and calls, people are holding up signs, telling us to go out of our way to help those people. Not one of those signs says to protect the gun manufacturers.”