Explainer: Tennessee governor’s Order of Protection proposal

April 21, 2023

In the wake of the recent shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee has called on Tennessee lawmakers to introduce an Order of Protection law aimed at preventing firearms from being bought or possessed by people who may be a danger to society or themselves.

Gov. Lee’s proposal is fundamentally about providing law enforcement officers with the tools necessary to protect citizens, while upholding the rights of Tennesseans to exercise their constitutional rights. 

What is the Order of Protection proposal?

Gov. Lee’s proposal is not a new law, but rather builds on already existing legal frameworks and standards. In particular, it is linked to the existing Order of Protection for domestic violence. Currently, if a husband threatens to abuse a wife in Tennessee, an order of protection may be issued by the court temporarily restricting the husband’s access to weapons. This proposal expands that law to allow the same court to temporarily restrict access to weapons should a person threaten to attack a church, school, or other area of the community. 

The Order of Protection would institute a system so that firearms could be temporarily removed from individuals who have been deemed in a court of law to be a potential threat to themselves or others. 

The first step in the process is the involvement of law enforcement. Upon an official report that a person is a danger to themselves or others, law enforcement officers would conduct an investigation. If the officers deem that there is sufficient evidence for an individual to meet the evidentiary standard, then law enforcement would file a petition to the court. 

Once the petition is filed, the court has an extensive process which includes:

The court process requires that both sides have legal representation. Thus, there is a high bar for the process to begin, and individuals are entitled to full due process so as to challenge the claims of the court if they believe they are in error.

If the court grants the order of protection, then a person’s firearms may be removed for up to 180 days. The judge would also be required to consider alternatives before issuing the order. The firearms must be surrendered to either a third party or to law enforcement. Additionally, individuals may petition to have the firearms returned. The proposal also includes penalties for false reports.

The Order of Protection Proposal is Not a “Red Flag” Law

Red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, are currently effective in 19 states along with Washington, D.C.  The guidelines and specific provisions vary from state to state, but there are key differences between these laws and Gov. Lee’s proposal. 

First, the Order of Protection only allows law enforcement officers to make the official request to the court. Some red flag laws allow multiple actors—such as medical professionals, family members, educators, and other individuals—to file a petition before the court to have firearms confiscated. However, the governor’s proposal restricts the power of filing the petition to law enforcement alone, supporting them in their efforts to prevent crime. 

Additionally, Gov. Lee’s proposal allows for a structured procedure to meet all the demands of due process. Many states’ red flag laws include an emergency ex parte. An ex parte allows for an expedited process in which firearms can be confiscated prior to a court hearing. In some states, the ex parte emergency seizure can last up to one year. The proposal from Gov. Lee does not include this provision, meaning that a person can only be dispossessed of the firearms if they go through the entire court process, which means due process is preserved.

How have Southern Baptists spoken to this issue?

Southern Baptists have spoken clearly about the need to meet and curb the plague of mass shootings in recent history. 

Both resolutions affirmed the solidarity of the convention “with all those victimized by gun violence.” Further, the 2022 resolution called on local, state, and federal leaders to “take concrete steps, toward solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life . . . and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.” 

Additionally, Randy Davis, president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, in addition to a group of pastors in the Middle Tennessee region, sent a letter to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly. In a Baptist and Reflector article, Davis commented on the Order of Protection:

“This is personal for me. . . . . I am a gun owner and I strongly support the Second Amendment, however I also have a daughter who is a school teacher. She loves the children she teaches. She and her students, like all teachers and students, deserve a safe environment in which to teach and learn. 

“Measures must be taken to address the mental health side of gun violence, especially as it pertains to mass shootings and the unnecessary and deeply unfortunate deaths of innocent people such as 9-year-old children.”

Representing more than 20% of the state’s population, these Southern Baptists and other ministers called on the members to support Gov. Lee’s proposal reminding them of their duty before God as “His servant[s] in matters of justice, protecting the vulnerable from those who do evil” (Rom. 13:1-7). 

As ERLC President Brent Leatherwood explained in his own letter to the Tennessee Assembly, the actions of Southern Baptists are drawn from the commitment that every life possesses intrinsic value and worth. The same convictions, Leatherwood argued, that motivate Christians to protect the preborn, urge them to protect vulnerable children from the violence of mass shootings.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24