In Tennessee, no restrictions like “red flag” laws stand in the way of gun access

Tennessee has almost none of the restrictions some states have implemented in recent years in an effort to prevent mass shootings like the one that took place in Nashville on Monday in which six people, including three 9-year-olds, were killed.

The state does not have any “red flag” laws, which are emergency protection orders that temporarily restrict access to guns for individuals that are at elevated risk to harm themselves or others. Families or law enforcement can petition the courts for emergency protection orders so guns can be removed. 

After the 2018 Parkland shooting, 18 states plus D.C. implemented “red flag” laws.  

Preliminaries studies show that gun violence might be reduced when steps are taken to limit access to guns; one study suggested 21 cases of mass shootings might have been prevented thanks to early intervention with individuals who owned firearms and had made explicit threats.

During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Nashville Police Chief John Drake said the attacker in the Nashville school shooting —identified as 28-year-old Audrey Hale— was under medical supervision for an “emotional disorder.” Drake said the shooter’s parents knew their child had sold a weapon and thought there were no guns in the house. 

“The parents felt (Hale) should not own weapons,” Drake said.

Unbeknownst to them, the police chief said, the shooter had hidden seven firearms legally bought from five stores before Monday’s deadly attack. The shooter used three of those weapons in the rampage.

On Monday, when the assailant was leaving the house, Hale’s mother asked what was inside a red bag. She was “dismissed,” the chief said.

Hale’s mother “didn’t look in the bag, because at the time she didn’t know that [Hale] had any weapons,” the chief said. 

The lack of awareness of the shooter’s “pathway towards violence” and the absence of mechanisms to flag potential threats contributes to mass shootings, former ATF senior special agent Mark Kraft, who spent 26 years investigating source guns, told CBS News. 

In Tennessee, guns are easy to get — and there are a lot of them. 

In 2021, the same year Gov. Bill Lee signed a “constitutional carry” law for Tennesseans, 151,536 residents applied for a gun license. The law allows people 21 and older to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. Members of the military ages 18 to 20 can also carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit. More than 51% of Tennessee adults have guns in their homes.

“In Tennessee purchasing a gun can be as simple as meeting in an Applebee’s parking lot,” says Kraft.

Gun-related deaths in Tennessee have increased by 52% from 2012 to 2021, according to a study by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy organization. In 2020, 1,473 people died by firearms in the state, according to the CDC

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