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After school shooting, Tennessee governor signs bill to shield gun firms further against lawsuits

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Gov. Bill Lee 

NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed off on additional protections for gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits within a bill that lawmakers passed after a deadly school shooting in March.

The Republican governor quietly signed the legislation Thursday. Its provisions kick in on July 1.

The state Senate gave final passage to the bill in mid-April, just weeks after the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds. The House had passed it before the shooting.

Lee's choice to sign the bill comes as he keeps pushing for the same Republican lawmakers, who hold supermajorities in the House and Senate, to pass a proposal that aims to keep guns away from people who could harm themselves or others. Lee plans to call lawmakers back into an August special session that aims "to strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights" after they adjourned last month without taking up his "temporary mental health order of protection" proposal. His office hasn't released the parameters of what version of that proposal, or others, will be considered in the session yet.

The expansion of civil immunity for gun companies was hardly in doubt after lawmakers passed it. Lee has never issued a veto, which lawmakers would have the numbers to override. However, he occasionally has allowed bills to take effect without his signature to signal his concerns or disapproval of a policy.

Democratic lawmakers have blasted the move to prioritize legal protections to the gun industry in the wake of the shooting. Three Senate Republicans voted against the legislation, which came before them in the middle of weeks of public pressure, protests and marches to pass gun control reforms. Only Democrats opposed the bill in the House vote before the shooting.

"With regards to the law, the GOP supermajority is more focused on protecting firearms and manufacturers and dealers than protecting our children and communities," Rep. John Ray Clemmons, the House Democratic caucus chairman from Nashville, said in an interview Monday.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Joey Hensley from Hohenwald, said during a floor debate last month that his legislation doesn't prevent any other proposal from passing to make changes after the shooting. He said the bill aims to help out businesses in Tennessee's booming firearms industry.

The Tennessee bill spells out a half-dozen situations in which gun and ammo companies could be held civilly liable in Tennessee state courts, exempting others.

The firearm industry remains largely shielded from liability under federal law. Seventeen states do not have special immunity for the gun industry. Tennessee was already not one of those states before the bill's approval, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. In recent years, some states have moved in the opposite direction of Tennessee by rolling back legal protections for gun manufacturers and dealers.

Last year, Remington, the company that made the rifle used in the 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.

And 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. Some of the settlement specifics in the case in the Texas court system were kept confidential.

The owner of the company, Jordan Mollenhour, sits on the Tennessee State Board of Education. The company was accused of failing to verify Dimitrios Pagourtzis' age — he was 17, at the time — when he bought more than 100 rounds of ammunition on two occasions before the May 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School.

(1) comment


This is great legislation and kudo's to the Governor and the Legislature for working toward saving companies from frivolous lawsuits that only add to the pressures against our God given rights of self protection. The focus of the left is to punish anything or anyone but the criminal. While, the focus of the GOP lead state should remain on protecting our Constitutional rights, not picking away at their foundations. And further, the legislature can and must pass other legislation that will force school boards across our state to enact greater, security measures. If the writer of this article wants to actually report on a solution in the court room, how about reporting on the legislature allowing parents to sue school leaders and school boards for the dereliction of their duties to actually protect our children? Words are cheap, but constitutional actions are the solution, Red Flag laws are a 'red herring' of the anti-gun left. They have not worked, nor will they ever - that is obvious to even a casual observer - we currently have strong laws on the books that deal with mental and harm issues as they relate to firearms possession. Unless and until, they are enforced, we should fight any other laws on firearms. One such solution is that school leadership across the state, should be put on notice by the legislature and parents! We will not allow school boards to passively care for our children only to blame law abiding gun owners. We will not allow them to continue to spend hundreds of millions more of our tax dollars without putting the safety of our children front and foremost. They should take even more serious steps to prevent these tragic events from happening in the first place, rather than joining with those playing the 'blame' game.

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