WAVERLY, Tenn. - U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty says he opposed a Senate gun compromise engineered in part by fellow Republican and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell because it provided "far too much autonomy to bureaucrats" on "red flag" issues that allow them to ask judges to temporarily take firearms from people deemed dangerous.
"I appreciate the effort my Republican colleagues put in to try to come to a conclusion," Hagerty said Monday during a trip to Waverly. "But there were red flag issues with it that gave far too much autonomy to bureaucrats."
As a result, Hagerty said, it "really put them in a position to take away Second Amendment rights that I didn't feel were appropriate."
Hagerty, who was joined by U.S. Rep. Mark Green, a Clarksville Republican, also both pushed back on criticism following last week's 6-3 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the U.S.
Both lawmakers' comments came as they toured this small community of just more than 4,000 people a year after torrential rains swept through, killing 20 people residing in low-lying areas as a creek transformed into river. Waverly and Humphreys County leaders are in the midst of preparing damage estimates to present to the federal government for aid and other assistance aimed at preventing any future such tragedy.
The gun legislation, titled The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Saturday following U.S. House approval. The final Senate vote was 65 to 33 with 15 Republicans joining Democrats in support of the measure, the first significant gun legislation to clear Congress in decades. Hagerty was joined in opposition by U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock voted yes.
It passed the House on a 234-193 vote. Fourteen Republicans across the nation voted for the legislation. Tennessee and Georgia Republicans voted no.
The new gun law came about after the nation's most recent mass shooting May 24 at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school where 19 children and two teachers died. The 18-year-old shooter was shot and killed at the school.
On May 14, another mass shooting involving an 18-year-old occurred in Buffalo, New York, at a supermarket. Ten Black people were killed and three other people were wounded by an alleged racist teenager.
The new law includes $750 million to help states implement and run crisis-intervention programs. Funds can be used to implement and manage "red flag" programs, allowing a judge to temporarily prevent individuals in crisis from accessing firearms. The money can also be used for other crisis intervention programs such as mental health courts, drug courts and veterans courts.
It also closes a years-old loophole in federal domestic violence law as well as in some states. It's been dubbed as the "boyfriend loophole." Until now, federal law only barred someone from purchasing a firearm if convicted of domestic violence while living with their partner, married to their partner or having had a child with their partner.
Democrats had sought unsuccessfully for years to extend that to dating partners, convicted stalkers and any individual under a protective order.
While speaking with reporters following their tour of Waverly, which included a low-lying area where seven adults and two children living in public housing drowned as flood waters hit 7 feet, Hagerty and Green also pushed back on criticism following last week's overturning of Roe v. Wade abortion.
"Democrats simply want abortion all the way up to and including the moment of birth on demand without any reason," Hagerty said. "If you look at their policies, that would put the United States right ... in line with China and North Korea in terms of how you treat children in the womb. It's unbelievable."
Not all Democrats favor abortion access in all cases. According to a May public opinion survey by Vanderbilt University, 70% of Tennessee Democrats favor abortion being legal in all cases, while 22% believe it should be legal only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger. Among Republicans, 8% favor abortion access in all cases, while 54% say it should be allowed only in only in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
"It's pretty clear to me as a physician and a clinician that life begins at conception," Green said.
Asked about women who say they are fearful that due to health reasons, they may not be able to carry a baby to term and that their health or even life could be jeopardized, Green strongly disagreed.
"I was taught in my emergency medicine residency - you save the mother first," Green said. "That's the best way to save the baby. So this argument we (physicians) would somehow sacrifice the mother to save a child is a false argument. It's not what's taught in medical schools."
State Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, who was among Democrats unsuccessfully fighting Tennessee's abortion restrictions as they came through the General Assembly, raised concerns Monday on the effect of Tennessee's laws on women's safety.
In a series of tweets, she warned of the dangers of ectopic pregnancies, which occur when a fertilized egg gets lodged on its way to the uterus. She said it would require a drug-induced abortion to save a woman.
"Doctors know that women will die, TN elected Republicans know that women will die-the GOP electeds do not care," Johnson tweeted. "This is how our trigger bans will cause women to die."
Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery later Monday filed an emergency motion with the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to lift a stay on the state's six-week "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban enacted by the state legislature in 2020. The procedure would be banned at six weeks, which is before most women know they are pregnant.
But attorneys for Planned Parenthood and physicians moved first earlier in the day, filing with the U.S. District Court in Nashville to have its challenge to the law dismissed without prejudice - meaning they could bring it back - which prompted Slatery's office to object to the 6th Circuit that it amounts to a delaying tactic.
In addition to the heartbeat bill, Tennessee is also one of 13 states with a "trigger law." It bans abortion under almost all circumstances. But it has a 30-day delay after any U.S. Supreme Court ruling several restricting or voiding Roe v. Wade before it goes into effect, which is why Slatery last week announced he was first pressing for the 6th Circuit to allow the heartbeat law to go into effect immediately.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.