Tennessee bishops call for new gun laws after Nashville school shooting

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The Catholic bishops of Tennessee joined more than 130 religious leaders in the state Tuesday in calling on Republican Gov. Bill Lee and the Legislature to enact tighter gun restrictions including “extreme risk” or “red flag” laws.

The letter comes less than a month after a mass shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville in which a former student shot and killed three current students and three staff members.

“As faith leaders, we encourage you, our elected leaders, to take steps that will help protect our kids and our cherished individual rights,” says the April 17 letter, which was signed by Bishop Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop David Talley of Memphis, and Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville.  

In the letter, which was led by a state coalition calling for firearm restrictions, Voices for a Safer Tennessee, three requests were made of lawmakers and the governor.

First, the religious leaders called for the implementation of “extreme risk laws,” sometimes referred to as “red flag laws.”

“Allow authorities to temporarily remove guns from those who pose a risk to themselves or others by implementing extreme risk laws,” the letter said.

According to the national advocacy group calling for restrictions on firearms, Everytown for Gun Safety, extreme risk laws “allow loved ones or law enforcement to intervene by petitioning a court for an order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns.”

Extreme risk laws are hotly debated in American politics today. Although 19 states and Washington, D.C., have already enacted them, groups such as the National Rifle Association claim these laws violate Americans’ constitutional rights.

The religious leaders also called on the lawmakers and governor to require background checks on all gun purchases and to close the “background check loophole.”

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a loophole exists because the “federal law does not require background checks on sales between unlicensed parties.”

While federally licensed firearms dealers must conduct background checks of buyers, federal law also says that those “who make occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms” are exempt from having to be federally licensed, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

In 21 states and Washington, D.C., there are state laws requiring background checks for private gun sales, according to Everytown for Gun Safety

The letter from the religious leaders, which was shared with the governor and Legislature on Tuesday, said that firearms in the state “are the leading cause of death among kids and teenagers, and 59% of gun deaths are self-inflicted wounds.”

“Today, we come together to support a reasonable response to the violence in our state,” the letter said. 

“Together, we agree on much more than we disagree and can work together to build a safer Tennessee. Offering our collective public support will help us all do the next right thing as we heal together,” the letter said. 

In the past, the U.S. bishops have supported gun restrictions and other measures to combat firearm violence. 

The bishops have supported initiatives such as providing appropriate mental health resources, an “assault weapon” ban, assessing the effect violent images have had on people and the youth, and restrictions on handgun sales, according to the USCCB.

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Following the shooting at Covenant School, Bishop Spalding offered his condolences in a Facebook post. 

“My heart breaks with news of the school shooting at The Covenant School this morning,” he said. “Let us pray for the victims, their families, and the Covenant Presbyterian community,” he said.

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