Key Republican to take up gun storage effort in wake of Covenant shooting

By: - April 5, 2023 11:21 am

House Republican Caucus Leader Jeremy Faison of Cosby says he will bring up a bill to require guns be safely stored in cars and boats. (Photo: John Partipilo)

This story has been updated.

A House Republican leader is planning to revive a measure requiring people to lock their guns in vehicles — an effort to stop an epidemic of “smash and grab” thefts — as the Democrat-backed effort stalled Tuesday in the Legislature.

State Rep. Jeremy Faison, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, said he will be working on an idea initially sponsored by Democratic Rep. Caleb Hemmer that would make it illegal to leave weapons loose in vehicles and boats. Faison’s support or sponsorship would give the effort a much better chance of passage in the Republican-controlled body.

Hemmer took his bill off notice in a House subcommittee Tuesday after consulting with Faison who told him he wants to work with him on the measure. Later in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed the companion bill until 2024, meaning any House effort to renew the legislation will require a friendly sponsor in the Senate.

House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby and Nashville Democrat Caleb Hemmer to move a gun storage bill in the House after Hemmer’s effort stalled Tuesday.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Todd Gardenhire said last week no gun-related bills would come through his panel in light of The Covenant School shooting that claimed six lives in late March, and he postponed three gun bills on Tuesday until next year.

“I’m interested in the fact that our current laws for guns in your car don’t have any direction on should they be locked up or not,” said Faison, a Republican from East Tennessee. “(I) would like to see, if you leave your car in a public spot, you should lock (a weapon) in your glove box.”

Faison pointed out some of the state’s larger cities have a problem with “smash and grab” in which young people check cars to see if they’re unlocked or knock out windows to see if guns can be taken. He noted the thieves have only “seconds” to break into a car and would be less likely to try and steal a weapon from a locked console or glove box.

“They’re just grabbing what they can see and move out,” he said.

Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake sent a March 21 letter to Rep. Clay Doggett, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, seeking support for Hemmer’s bill. In it, he pointed out vehicle gun thefts jumped to 1,378 in Metro Nashville in 2022 from 848 in 2019 and to 2,740 last year in Memphis from 1,159 in 2019.

Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake addresses members of the media on Monday, March 27, after a school shooting at a private elementary school in Nashville. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake addresses members of the media on Monday, March 27, after a school shooting at a private elementary school in Nashville. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Hemmer said Faison doesn’t want to use the exact language he had in his original bill but would push for passage of a similar measure before the end of this legislative session.

“I think it’s a very significant development. (Faison) said, hey, this was an unintended consequence, and we want to work on these deals where people are leaving their guns unsecured in their cars when they’re not in there and try to help stop some of these criminals that are getting these guns, the ‘smash and grabs,’” Hemmer said.

The number of gun thefts from vehicles has soared over the last decade since the Legislature loosened restrictions for keeping weapons in vehicles.

State Sen. Yarbro of Nashville was irritated Tuesday when the Judiciary Committee delayed his version of the bill until 2024, calling the move “pathetic.” He hoped to amend it to include a red flag law allowing family members and police to petition a judge to have firearms removed from a person who poses a threat to themselves or others.

“We’re not going to give up. We’ll do what we can to bring Senate Bill 1029 or some other bill to the floor to move this legislation forward,” Yarbro said in a statement.

Gov. Bill Lee, in introducing his school safety plan this week, tepidly endorsed a move to keep guns out of the hands of mentally unstable people but did not provide any specifics. The governor’s proposal did not include any steps to tighten gun laws or encourage secure storage in vehicles.

Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday they will continue to push bills this session for secure gun storage, extreme protection orders to keep guns away from unstable people, bans on military-style weapons and bans on bump stocks.

They pointed out Covenant School shooter Audrey Hale fired more than 150 shots when she killed six people that day using two AR-15 rifles.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.