Memphis City Council Approves Referendum for Unenforceable Gun Laws

Voters in Memphis, Tennessee could see a number of local gun restrictions on their ballots next August after the city council approved a referendum on Tuesday evening seeking to enshrine the measures into local law, despite the fact that Tennessee state statutes forbid localities from imposing their own gun restrictions.

The proposed ordinances would mandate concealed carry licenses in order to lawfully bear arms in the city as well as imposing a ban on the sale and carrying of so-called assault weapons, and would additionally establish a municipal-based “red flag” ordinance.

While some city council members have suggested the referendum is more of an opinion poll about what laws they’d like to see in place, the comments by other supporters on the council indicate the city will try to enforce the measures even though the state’s firearm preemption law prohibits localities from setting up their own gun control regimes.

Any legal challenges to the ordinances would happen prior to the 2024 vote, Councilman Jeff Warren, one of the authors of the referendum, told The Commercial Appeal in May.
After passing the referendum, Warren said he was “really proud” that the council took this issue to Memphians.
“What I’m really proud of is that the council looked at this and thought it was wroth giving the people a chance to voice what they want when it comes to sensible gun reform,” Warren said. “This is a national problem. If we, as a city, can be a leader and allow our people to vote, then hopefully, various legislative bodies that have the authority to legislate this will go ahead and listen to the people.”
He said, as a physician, he said red flag laws could help curb suicide rates.
“The thing that I like best about it, as a doctor, a major cause of death from firearms in our country is suicide,” he said. “We need to be able to have family members have the ability to have those guns removed from people until they can be treated.”

The ignorance in Warren’s statement is absolutely astounding. First, while it’s entirely possible that the referendum itself will be challenged in court, I’m not sure who exactly would have standing to sue. Any lawsuit filed by gun owners would likely have to wait until the referendum has been held and the local gun restrictions are in place, so I highly doubt that the courts will have resolved the disputed ordinances before the election is held.

But Warren’s comments about “red flag” laws also reveal a shocking lack of awareness of existing law, especially for a physician. Warren should be knowledgable of the fact that Tennessee already has a civil commitment law that allows police and mental health professionals to take someone into custody for a mental health evaluation if there’s a concern that they pose a danger to themselves or others. Extreme Risk Protection Orders typically don’t involve any evaluation from a mental health professional at all, nor is treatment offered to those deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others. Under the “red flag” law proposed by the council, someone who had their guns removed from their home would not only be able to access pills, knives, and other items they could use to harm themselves, but they could just hop in their car and drive to a nearby suburb to purchase a firearm since the “red flag” law would apply only inside the city limits.

At least that would be the case if it were even allowed to take effect, which is almost certainly not gonna happen. Just like the recent actions by the clowns on the city council in Indianapolis, who adopted their own slate of unenforceable gun control ordinances this week, the vote by the Memphis City Council is more political theater than a substantive response to violent crime or public safety. The courts aren’t going to treat this blatant violation of state law kindly, and violent criminals aren’t going to be dissuaded by a slate of new misdemeanor offenses even if the proposed ordinances were allowed to take effect. But the council members now get to say they’re “doing something”… just not something of any value or benefit to the citizens of Memphis.

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