New TNJ edition alert: Kelsey’s ‘big mistake,’ lawmakers demand shooter’s writings

Then-Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), right, confers with then-Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) on the House floor in Nashville on April 30, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Federal judge rejects Kelsey’s claim guilty plea was ‘big mistake’

— Statehouse update: Why ask when you can demand? Lawmakers seek shooter’s writings.

— From the campaign trail: Memphis residency ruling, Ogles gets another big endorsement, GOP race for vacated state House seat down to two candidates.

Also: Dolly Parton takes aim at politicians, Beth Harwell on “lazy” supermajorities, save the date for the Statesmen’s Dinner, and $700,000 for Cordell Hull repairs.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Lee calls Aug. 21 special session in response to school shooting

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call lawmakers back into a special session on Aug. 21. Here’s the release from teh governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that he will call for the Tennessee General Assembly to convene a special legislative session on August 21, 2023, to strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights. 

“After speaking with members of the General Assembly, I am calling for a special session on August 21 to continue our important discussion about solutions to keep Tennessee communities safe and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Gov. Lee. “There is broad agreement that action is needed, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to listen to Tennesseans and pursue thoughtful, practical measures that strengthen the safety of Tennesseans, preserve Second Amendment rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health.”

Starting today, Tennesseans are invited to engage in the conversation by sharing feedback here.

Gov. Lee will meet with legislators, stakeholders and Tennesseans throughout the summer to discuss practical solutions ahead of the special session. 

The Governor’s office will issue a formal call ahead of the special session. 

Man charged with firing rifle at Memphis Fox affiliate has history of mental illness

A man charged with firing an “AR-style rifle” at the locked door of a Fox affiliate in Memphis has a history of mental illness, his mother told the Commercial Appeal.

Police arrested Jarrad Nathan, 26, after he locked himself in the bathroom of a restaurant near the University of Memphis campus. He was charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment after police said a bullet he fired at the glass door at the TV station. Nobody was injured.

Nathan’s mother, Marsha McKinney, told the paper he has been treated for mental health issues isnce he was young. Nathan was shot in March by a friend of his father, she said.

“I think the mental health problems started at 13, 14 years old,” McKinney said. “It has not been an easy road for me, as a parent, to deal with my son… All we can do is pray. I’ve been praying for my son because I have to do what the Lord wants me to do. Now I’ve got to put my foot in the trenches and do what needs to be done and take care of him.”

The shooting comes as Gov. Bill Lee tries to persuade lawmakers to pass a law to prevent people deemed to be a danger to others from accessing firearms.

Lawmakers keep distance from Lee’s call for gun restrictions

Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) speaks on the Senate floor on March 6, 2023. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

When Gov. Bill Lee delivered his initial comments about the mass shooting at the Covenant School, he was flanked by nearly 40 lawmakers and much of his Cabinet. The governor stood alone when he announced his support for an order of protection law to prevent people who are a danger to themselves or others from having access to guns.

“I’m asking the General Assembly to bring forward an order of protection law. A new, strong order of protection law will provide the broader population cover, safety, from those who are a danger to themselves or the population,” Lee said.

“This is our moment to lead and to give the people of Tennessee what they deserve,” he said.

But Republican lawmakers have been keeping their distance from anything that might be construed as a “red flag” law. For example, here is a lengthy statement issued late Tuesday from Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), who usually carries the governor’s legislation:

I am committed to protecting Tennesseans’ constitutional rights, including the right to due process. I have always been and continue to be opposed to so-called “red flag laws” because they deprive citizens of their rights without due process. I do believe, however, that criminals and individuals experiencing a severe mental health crisis should not have access to firearms. Current Tennessee law prohibits those who have been involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment or adjudicated as mentally defective from owning, possessing, or purchasing firearms. We must ensure these laws are strongly enforced. Changes to the current law should not be made in haste nor come from a place of emotion. Depriving someone of a constitutional right is a serious matter and any proposal to create an emergency mental health order of protection must be carefully considered, narrowly tailored, and require rigorous due process. To my knowledge, no bill has been drafted. I am not willing to express support for or opposition to a bill that I have not seen.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) has said he would support “extreme risk” measures on guns, but stressed it was his personal position and not the one held by the Republican caucus.

AG statement on shooting at activist’s home

Here is a statement issued by state Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti about a shooting at the home of activist Justin Kanew, the founder of the liberal Tennessee Holler website.

Tennessee has suffered through an awful season. We have mourned the murder of six of our own in an incomprehensible attack at The Covenant School. We lost nine soldiers from Fort Campbell in a tragic helicopter crash. And over the weekend, intense storms killed over a dozen Tennesseans, while many more lost their homes.  

Though we’ve seen the worst of times recently, many among us have responded with their best. Many Tennesseans stepped up to comfort and support one another. They have walked alongside those in grief. They offered their time, talent, and treasure to support their neighbors. 

Unfortunately, some have chosen a different path.

Over the weekend, an unknown assailant fired into the home of a local political activist while his children were sleeping inside. I don’t know him personally, though I know I often disagree with him. Regardless of any differences of opinion, though, as a dad and as an attorney general I cannot tolerate this attack against him and his family. 

At the same time, our lawmakers are receiving graphic anonymous death threats. Our participatory democracy is being tested by these escalating acts of political violence. No Tennessean should have to worry about their safety, or the safety of their family, because of the opinions they express. No lawmaker should face injury or death for serving as an elected representative of the people. 

Disagreement is a good thing. Democracy depends on disagreement. Each of us has a right, guaranteed by the Constitution, to express our opinions. There are limits on how we express those opinions, and those limits are governed by the legislature, by the courts, and ultimately by the people. That system, the rule of law, is the foundation of our republic. Only by respecting the rule of law and the inherent value of human life can we flourish together despite many differences of opinion. 

We have been blessed with the freedom to disagree peacefully. Each and every one of us must work relentlessly to preserve that blessing so we can pass it along to the next generation. No matter how fierce a disagreement is, we need to step back from violence and let our constitutional system work.

Activist Kanew says his home fired upon while family was sleeping

Liberal activist Justin Kanew, who has outraged Republican lawmakers by chasing them through hallways of the Capitol complex asking them pointed questions, says his home was fired upon over the weekend while his family was sleeping.

“This violence has no place in a civilized society and we are thankful no one was physically hurt,” Kanew said in a tweet.

Authorities have not yet determined a reason for the attack and the Williamson County Sherriff’s Office is investigating further, Kanew said.

Kanew has had verbal run-ins with Gov. Bill Lee and numerous lawmakers in both chambers. Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) is among those who have lashed out at Kanew, recently calling him a “jackass” and a “loser.”

Kanew has been a vocal critic of legislative policies loosening gun laws, especially after the last week’s fatal shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville.

Kanew’s Tennessee Holler was first to report Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) had posted encouraging comments and emojis on the social media page of a scantily-clad 20-year-old gay man from Knoxville.

Protesters rally at Capitol to mark 1 week since fatal school shooting

Protesters hold a rally outside the state Capitol on April 3, 2023, marking one week since a fatal school shooting in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Students staged a walkout and protest one week after a shooting at a Nashville school left six people dead, including three 9-year-olds.

Gov. Bill Lee and fellow Republicans in the General Assembly held a press conference on the state’s response to the attack later on Monday. Lee said he would propose bills to place at least one armed guard in every public school in the state.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) denounced three Democratic lawmakers who tried to take over a floor session last week and led chants with a bullhorn. On conservative talk radio, Sexton likened the action to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington.

“What they did today was at least equivalent, maybe worse, depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the Capitol,” Sexton said.

Democratic Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, and Justin Pearson of Memphis have been removed from their committees in response.

Meanwhile, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, a former professional wrestler and potential gubernatorial candidate in 2026, spoke out against calls to enact a Red Flag law to prevent people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others from obtaining firearms.


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