Tennessee lawmaker sponsors bills to transfer teen gun thefts to adult court

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Judy Gallagher, left, pins a ribbon on Satedra Smith as she holds a photo of her son Jordan Clark, who was killed by gun violence when he was 20 years old, during the Wear Orange event held by the Chattanooga chapter of Moms Demand Action in Miller Park on June 4.
Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Judy Gallagher, left, pins a ribbon on Satedra Smith as she holds a photo of her son Jordan Clark, who was killed by gun violence when he was 20 years old, during the Wear Orange event held by the Chattanooga chapter of Moms Demand Action in Miller Park on June 4.

State Rep. Rusty Grills, a West Tennessee Republican, is sponsoring bills that would shift juveniles 16 and up to adult court in gun theft and burglary cases.

House Bill 7030 and House Bill 7031, which will be considered in the special session set to start Monday, will deal with a "dangerous trend" in which teens are breaking into businesses, homes and cars to steal weapons, said Grills, of Newbern.

"Serious crimes should have serious consequences. Treating juveniles as adults in these cases acknowledges the severity of these crimes and will ensure victims' rights are upheld," Grills said in a news release.

(READ MORE: Gov. Lee proposed 'orders of protection' on guns as part of special session — but he won't be pushing it)

Prosecutors would be able to request a transfer of juvenile cases to adult court, and judges would be able to use their discretion, according to a news release from the House Republican Caucus.

Juveniles committed some 1,400 felonies in 2021, 417 of which were robberies involving firearms, state data shows.

State law allows the transfer of juveniles to adult court for violent crimes such as first-degree and second-degree murder, rape, aggravated robbery and burglary, kidnapping, terrorism and carjacking.

State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, is sponsoring a similar measure, House Bill 7029, allowing minors between 16 and 18 charged with gun theft or other crimes involving a weapon to be transferred to adult criminal court after a petition has been filed and before a conviction.

Those measures do not have Senate sponsors yet and are expected to run into trouble in the upper chamber.

(READ MORE: Bus tour rallies Chattanoogans for gun reforms ahead of special session)

Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis is sponsoring two measures to punish adults who encourage minors to steal weapons or commit crimes for them.

And Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis is sponsoring House Bill 7045 and House Bill 7046 to keep juveniles from being transferred to adult court for crimes committed as a minor.

Another Democrat, Rep. Anthony Davis of East Nashville, is sponsoring House Bill 7047, which creates a Class E felony of threatened mass violence for reckless handling, display or discharge of a gun while driving or riding in a vehicle. Davis was appointed to serve in the Legislature to replace the late Rep. Bill Beck but lost in the recent Democratic primary to Aftyn Behn. She is running in the general election, which will be decided in September.

(READ MORE: Firearms are leading cause of death in Tennessee children, report finds)

In addition, Democrats are sponsoring bills to require universal background checks on gun buys, red flag laws, safe storage requirements and repeal of the "guns in trunks" law, which law enforcement officials have said led to an escalation in firearm thefts from vehicles.

"Tennesseans all across this state are calling for common sense gun safety reforms to protect kids by name," said Sen. London Lamar of Memphis, the Senate Democratic Caucus chairwoman. "We owe the Covenant families and the thousands of Tennesseans who are affected by gun violence a real debate on these life-saving policies."

The special session is slated to begin Monday at 4 p.m., and protests are expected all day at the State Capitol from groups seeking bans on military-style assault weapons and orders of protection that would allow confiscation of weapons from people found by courts to be a threat to themselves and others.

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.

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