Governor, AG Skrmetti move to dismiss gun rights lawsuit
By Logan Watson
An attorney representing Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti asked a panel of judges presiding over a gun rights lawsuit dismiss the case against his clients last Thursday.
The lawsuit, filed by Milan attorney Stephen L. Hughes, Duncan O’Mara, Elaine Kehel, Gun Owners of America, Inc., and Gun Owners Foundation, asserts that Tennessee’s gun-free zone and parks statutes are unconstitutional under the state’s Constitution, and seeks an injunction against the state to prevent them from enforcing those statutes in the future.
The plaintiffs claim that the statutes limit the places that citizens can legally carry firearms, creating a “criminal trap” for gun owners who want to be prepared to defend themselves or their families while in a park, campground or other area.
Permitless, or “Constitutional,” Carry was passed into law in 2021, allowing civilians 21 years or older to carry a handgun in public, either openly or concealed. In April, Attorney General Skrmetti announced that his office would not prosecute civilians between the aged 18 to 20 if they are found to be in possession of a handgun and instructed
The argument heard in Gibson County Chancery Court in Trenton Friday afternoon circulated not around the claims made in the suit, but the idea that Governor Lee and A.G. Skrmetti should be named in the suit.
Cody Brandon, the attorney representing the State Attorney General’s Offie, said that neither Governor Lee nor A.G. Skrmetti were directly responsible for any action against the plaintiffs, adding that even if the two were found liable by the court, there would be no way either party could rectify the existing statutes on their own.
John Harris, the attorney for the plaintiffs, disputed the defense’s claims that Governor Lee could not act to overturn the existing statutes, citing the power of Executive Order, and added that the Governor should be named in the suit, as it is his duty to ensure that laws are enforced and Constitutional.
Furthermore, Harris stated that if the two were removed from the lawsuit, the plaintiffs would be forced to sue the Sheriffs of all 95 counties in Tennessee and an untold amount municipal police chiefs individually.
The case was heard by a panel of three judges, including Chancellor Michael Mansfield of the 28th Judicial District, Judge Lisa Rice, a criminal court judge in East Tennessee and Judge Wyatt Burk, a circuit court judge in Middle Tennessee. A three-judge panel is appointed to hear cases when there is a challenge to the constitutionality of a law.
Chancellor Mansfield said that no court dates for any other parties named in the lawsuit have been set at this time. The panel of judges will be discussing the defense’s motion to dismiss and make a determination in the future.