Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s decision to call an additional legislative session to address gun reform prompted new allies to rally behind the Republican leader.
Democrats and gun control groups praised Lee’s move, which comes weeks after the mass shooting at Covenant School in Nashville that left six people dead, including three elementary school children.
On the other hand, Republicans in the gun-friendly state have signaled their reluctance to go along with Lee, who, after the shooting, asked his conservative lawmaker to act.
The evolving dynamic showed how gun control — a policy issue that most Republicans consider untouchable even after repeated mass shootings — has become a point of intra-party tension even in predominantly conservative states.
Tennessee Senate Democratic Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari said in an interview that it felt as though Lee was on the “same team” as Democrats.
Akbari also described Lee’s decision to break from the GOP caucus as “fascinating… given that [Republicans] haven’t been willing to embrace the possibility of gun safety legislation.”
Akbari’s comments reference Lee’s recent announcement to call the GOP-majority Legislature back to Nashville for a special session in August to address gun safety measures. While not unexpected, the call seemed to send shockwaves through Tennessee’s political scene, quickly shifting entrenched political loyalties in the state.
Gun rights groups called the governor “lousy Lee” while threatening to do everything in their power to jeopardize his political future, even though Lee has a limited term.
Not too long ago, Lee drew praise from these same groups that lauded his efforts to protect constitutional carry laws and other firearms during recent legislative sessions.
But that praise has shifted to gun control and safety groups, who praised the conservative Republican in interviews with NBC News, describing Lee’s actions as “rather commendable.”
Sean Holihan, a state legislative director at Giffords, described Lee’s decision as “an act of political courage,” adding, “even if the solution he put on the table isn’t a perfect one.”