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One-On-One with Representative Jody Barrett

One-On-One with Representative Jody Barrett

Governor Lee signed a bill that prevents municipalities from instituting their own red flag laws. Barrett sponsored it. Here's what he had to say.

Two weeks ago, Governor Lee signed a bill into law which prevents local governments in Tennessee from implementing their own red flag laws. The move stirred up controversy among gun control advocates whose grievances headlined media stories throughout this year’s General Assembly. Earlier this morning, we spoke with the bill’s House sponsor, Representative Jody Barrett (R-Dickson), about why he brought the legislation forward and how it will impact Tennessee.

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Let's jump into it. There's a lot of media coverage now that your bill has become law. Could you briefly explain the purpose of the bill and why you brought it forward?

Well, it's two-fold. My initial reasoning for presenting the bill was because, coming out of the special session that we had back in August, it was clear that there was strong support in our legislature in opposition to what the governor was trying to propose with red flag laws. I was really trying to strike while the iron was hot.

We came out of a special session where the state legislature said, “Look, we're not interested in doing this,” then the governor basically abandoned that coming into the regular session. I wanted to go ahead and try to preempt any effort that might be made at the local level, particularly when you're looking at cities like Davidson County or Shelby County, and the different politics that they have there where someone in those county or city governments might try to take this matter into their own hands and create their own local ordinance that would give local law enforcement and courts the ability to go in and seize weapons from people that they deemed to be dangerous or a threat to other folks.

That was the original thought behind it, and then, throughout the course of the session, the Biden administration announced their Resource Center that they were creating specifically regarding extreme risk protection orders and red flag laws. They were going to dangle grant money out to local city governments and county governments to try to get them to adopt red flag ordinances. So it really became an anti-Biden Administration bill as we were in the process of moving it through the legislature, and it just picked up steam as we moved on.

So this morphed into an anti-Biden Administration bill because of the grant money coming through. I'm assuming that's the provision in subsection C, which specifically states that political subdivisions of the state can't accept grants or source funding “to implement an ordinance, a rule, an executive order, a judicial order, or a judicial finding.” The Bloomberg Gun Control Group has also spent money to put pressure on Tennessee legislators to adopt red flag laws. That’s at the state level, but we know that Michael Bloomberg operates an office out of Knoxville. He obviously likes to get involved with this stuff, as well.

That language was taken directly from an Oklahoma law. Looking at other states and what they've done to address red flag laws, I came across an Oklahoma bill….I essentially used that as my framework for this bill. When I decided I was going to proceed with this, I reached straight out to Senator Nathan Dahm in Oklahoma who sponsored this bill there in 2020. I had a couple of different conversations with him, got the draft over, and, you know, I didn't reinvent the wheel here. I just found somebody that already had a wheel that was working pretty good and tried to use it.

Like I said, when the Biden Administration came out, they announced that they were creating this extreme risk protection Resource Center specifically to try to go out and recruit. What they're running into at the federal level—same thing that Bloomberg and some of these other gun control organizations are running into—is there are Republican-controlled legislatures across the country that are pushing back on this narrative and are standing in the way of the Biden administration cramming things down the throats of the states. And so they're trying to find an end-around around these legislatures. The way they've decided to do that is to go directly to the local level. It was brilliant of Oklahoma to foresee this as an issue back in 2020, and so I'm grateful that their bill already had a framework in there.

So since you used the Oklahoma bill as the outline for your bill, was there any discussion about why subsection C includes references to judicial orders and judicial findings?

Well, I think what we're seeing here in Tennessee—and really across the country—is that the courts in our urban centers, where the population base tends to lean more left than the rest of the state, don't necessarily reflect what's going on in their state legislature.

People are forum shopping. They're going into these urban courtrooms in order to find favorable judges that might lean to their side of the issue in order to get a ruling in place that they can then use to try to implement some other political agenda, prop up some funding, or prop up some issue that they've worked out with another political subdivision. 

We've kind of seen that with the Trump cases, right? I mean, it's intentional where these cases are being filed so that they get a court judge or a jury that they think is going to be sympathetic to what they're trying to accomplish. The same thing applies here. If there's a judicial body or an order that is put down in a state court in a jurisdiction that may lean in favor of gun control—say it's a Shelby County courtroom or something along those lines— this bill is going to prevent that county government or city government from using that judicial order as a justification for accepting grant money or other funding to try to implement some sort of red flag law.

Is there anything else that you feel is missing from the media and political conversations surrounding this legislation that you would like to add?

Well, from the other side, there were some representatives that had some things to say. Obviously some senators had some really harsh words on the gun control side of things.

I would simply say this: they've misrepresented what this bill does. They think that we are taking away local control and dictating to the local governments what they can and can't do. And the first response to that is, local governments are political subdivisions of the state. They don't have any control or authority that is not granted by the state to begin with. It's a different relationship between a city government and the state legislature than it is between the state legislature and the federal government and Congress.

The state governments are not political subdivisions of the federal government. We are independent, autonomous governments that stand on our own and we have our own sovereign rights under the Constitution. City and county governments do not. They are subdivisions of the state. They only exist because they were created by the state legislature. 

The second point is, this bill doesn't prohibit the state from enacting a red flag law or an extreme risk protection order, it just says it has to originate at the state level or at the state legislature. So if there's going to be a law of this effect put in place in Tennessee, it's going to have to originate in the state legislature, get passed through the General Assembly, and it's going to have to have statewide application so the law is the same for every citizen regardless of what county or jurisdiction you live in so that you're not having seventeen different ways that the law is being interpreted and enforced, depending on what part of the state you live in.