NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — More than 550 pastors and community members signed a letter urging Gov. Bill Lee to reconsider his support for a bill that would allow most adults 21 and older to carry a handgun without a permit.
The bill would remove requirements of a background check and firearm safety training. The bill does ban those who have been convicted of stalking or driving under the influence from being able to carry a firearm, as well as those who have been hospitalized or judicially committed in a mental institution.
Several members of the group met on Tuesday to hold a press conference speaking out against the bill, calling it dangerous legislation. The group is critical of the governor and his comments thanking the NRA for its support on the passage of the bill.
Shaundelle Brooks is the mother of Akilah DaSilva and one of four speakers outside Legislative Plaza on Tuesday. DaSilva and three others were shot and killed at the Waffle House just outside of Nashville in 2018.
Brooks spoke about her experience losing a loved one to gun violence. She said lawmakers have done nothing to make Tennessee safer since the shooting, warning that the bill would only make matters worse.
"If you pass this permitless legislation, that means that someone like that disturbed man who murdered my son, would not only be legally allowed to possess a gun in our state, he also would be allowed to carry it in public. He'd be able to carry a loaded gun anywhere in Tennessee that guns are allowed - which in this state is a lot of places," Brooks said.
Before the shooting, Travis Reinking already had his guns seized by law enforcement after he was found in a restricted area near the White House in July 2017. Reinking's Illinois firearms authorization was also revoked.
Police would later learn these weapons were returned to Reinking's father who was living in Tennessee. Reinking's father acknowledged that he gave the guns back to his son, once he moved to the state. Police found one of his firearms at the scene and another at his apartment.
Kevin Riggs, the pastor of Franklin Community Church, also spoke at the event. He said he is not against the Second Amendment, as long as there are protections for people who don't want to be caught in the line of fire.
"We're not challenging in the Second Amendment. People can still own guns, they can still go hunting, they can still have target practice. If they go through a permitting process, they can still carry that gun in public. But what this [bill] does, is it removes all of that," Riggs said. "People who otherwise would not be able to carry in public will feel empowered to do that now. They can carry in public and they may or may not have the ability to know what to do in a crisis situation. This makes us more dangerous. "
Supporters of the bill say people should not have to pay to exercise their constitutional rights. Meanwhile, tougher penalties for certain gun-related crimes are why Gov. Lee says this bill can make for a safer state.
Pastor Eugene Se'Bree of Jefferson Street Baptist Chuch questioned the governor's intentions and his relationship with the NRA. On Monday, Gov. Lee had a video call with NRA members. He thanked the group for help with the bill and pastor Se'Bree says this shows the governor is prioritizing politics over people.
"Governor Lee’s connection and commitment to the money and influence of this dangerous lobby group over the will of the people shows corruption and commitment to political donation and power over the will and safety of Tennesseans," Se'Bree said.
The bill will now head to the Calendar & Rules Committee where it's expected to go before a full house vote later this week. The measure has already passed in the Senate.