Special Report – Part 3 – Extreme Risk Protection Orders Examined


Tennesseans understand there will be a legislative session called by Governor Bill Lee as announced on May 8 to discuss and debate school safety, preventing firearms from getting into the hands of individuals who have been deemed a harm to themselves or others, and the fact that the United States Constitution–the Law of the Land–protects the right of a law-abiding citizen to own, posses, and use a firearm for personal protection.

Before going further, appreciate that this will prove to be a tedious task. Every person brings to any situation their own experiences, opinions, and desires as facts are debated. That simply means something as simple, as some might argue, as keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill or any who are deemed a threat safety is not so simple.

This is all demonstrated by the parable of the blind men asked to describe an elephant through their sense of touch, which they have never seen to know its image. One touches the large beast’s side and declares it to be as a large wall; another examines through touch the pachyderm’s tusk and pronounces it to be as a spear; another is only able to touch the elephant’s trunk and declares it to be snakelike.

You get the idea.

The same will be at play on August 21, as the special session of the Tennessee General Assembly commences this time of deliberations, as described by Governor Bill Lee, “to continue our important discussion about solutions to keep Tennessee communities safe and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”

At the center of the debate will be extreme risk orders. The Governor and Representatives Sam Whitson (R) and Darren Jernigan (D) have all three made public statements to support this process currently used in Tennessee in the area of domestic violence to protect victims of harassment and violence from escalation and future harm.

What’s the big debate over an extreme risk protection order since it’s not a crime, but employs law enforcement, medical professionals, and the court to remove weapons from those alleged to demonstrate dangerous behavior?

While the accusation made toward a respondent is not a crime, he or she will have a court record and a medical record based on a complainant. This accusation may or may not be substantiated with a fact pattern or evidence of behavior, as demonstrated by the broad scope of other states which have similar laws in place. Upon the actions of law enforcement, medical professionals, and the court, a constitutional right may be taken from a citizen based on the belief or accusation, not a crime committed.

However, in many cases, there may, indeed be evidence, behavior, or even a history and is an appropriate behavior-oriented intervention. Yet, the precedent set by taking a right from one prior to a crime is unconstitutional.

 The dilemma relates to the parable. Let’s just hope Tennessee leaders debate, discuss, and decide with their eyes open and avoid using only their feelings.