Opinion: All Tennessee legislators should prioritze constituents’ voices ahead of August special session

Staff File Photo By Matt Hamilton / State Rep. Greg Martin, R-Hixson, has mailed out and emailed a survey to some constituents of his district to gather their opinions about the upcoming special legislative session.

In just over three weeks, a special called session of the Tennessee General Assembly will gavel to order to discuss what Gov. Bill Lee said would be strengthening public safety and preserving constitutional rights.

The exact scope of the discussion has yet to be determined but will be guided, according to state Rep. Greg Martin, R-Hixson, by "what part of the [state] code he opens up."

The call for the special session was made after the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville in which three children and three adults were killed by a former student of the school before the student was shot and killed by two Metropolitan Nashville Police Department officers.

In May, once the special session was announced, we suggested "every legislator ... take the time between now and August to examine their consciences about guns and carefully consider what could be done — with Lee's mandate to "preserve Second Amendment rights" — and to meet with their constituents in a town hall format to hear what they have to say."

Instead of announcing town halls, a group of three Republican legislators sent Lee a letter in May urging him to cancel the special session, and the Tennessee Faith and Freedom Coalition in June asked the same thing of the governor.

"If nothing else," the Faith and Freedom Coalition wrote Lee in asking him to cancel the session, "this proposed special session ... has become a rallying cry and a clarion call for every Marxist, Leftist, Soros-funded, and anti-Second Amendment organization across the United States to come to Nashville and, as said in the leaked audio [from various groups], "____ it up."

Town halls, apparently, have been few and fare between.

However, state Sen. J. Adam Lowe, R-Cleveland, recently met with constituents in Niota, Tennessee, "to openly discuss the challenges and opportunities we face in Tennessee," and Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, held two town halls earlier this week on gun violence.

In addition, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators — which includes state Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga — held or will hold town halls this summer in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, Memphis and Clarksville, with the special session as one of the topics.

Martin, earlier this week, sent a survey email to some of his constiuents and mailed out surveys to others in District 26, and public safety was prominent in what he hopes to hear from residents.

"I didn't want to do a town hall," he told this page Friday. "They can get ugly, and I've seen them devolve into shouting matches."

But, Martin said, "I represent the people, and I want to listen to what the people have to say."

In his survey, the first-term representative asked about whether individuals should be accountable if they leave guns visible in unlocked vehicles, if people should be held accountable if they don't report threats of mass harm and if there should be a voluntary sign-up system to relinquish one's own weapons until the individual can find mental health assistance.

Martin, further, asked what respondents felt the core issues driving violence in the country were and what they felt should be the priorities in the special session.

However, he said, he is aware "nothing has been presented" from Lee, so his questions may have no relevance in the special session. But, he said, January will see the beginning of another regular legislative session, which will mean opportunities for a wider range of subjects to be presented.

Martin said he has opinions on some of the questions, but he's "not going to violate the Constitution or my conscience" with his votes.

For instance, he said, the people he represents "know I'm not going to vote for a gun grab. Some things are non-negotiable, like the Second Amendment. I'm not going to take away the right for people to defend themselves."

Martin said, though, there may be some "common-sense things" legislators can do.

The volunteer sign-up system for mentally ill people to relinquish guns until they can receive proper treatment could be one of those.

"Conceptually," he said, "it makes sense to me."

When Lee announced the special session, he said he would meet with legislators to discuss "practical solutions" ahead of the special session.

Martin said he met with the governor and a small group of other legislators several weeks ago.

"There's been a tremendous amount of conversations," he said. "That's the sausage of public service. It was a good way to hear his vision, his thoughts, his concerns."

Martin said he's happy to talk to anyone about the special session, or any other concern, and urged those who didn't receive a survey to email him at [email protected]. He'll also be speaking to the Friends of Hixson at 8 a.m. Aug. 16 at Clear Creek Church of Christ, 5612 Hixson Pike, though his talk will be more of a general legislative update.

"I want to be accessible," he said. "People want to know [their legislator is] listening and can be approached. If they can't, they don't have any business being in public service."

We hope other legislators — in the county delegation or elsewhere — reach out in similar or different ways before the Aug. 21 special session. The more dialogue from more Tennesseans, the better.