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Jillian’s Law is Signed into Law

Updated: May 16


Photo courtesy of Kathleen Harrington

As the Tennessee House Chamber glowed green while 92 out of the 99 members clicked the “yea” light on their desks, Jessica Ludwig watched from the balcony.  


Despite her tears, she remained standing as she held up a smiling image of her slain daughter, Jillian.  


Ludwig, along with her husband Matt and their sons Shane, 16, and Trevor, 14, traveled over 800 miles from New Jersey to Nashville: the city where their daughter and sister, Jillian Ludwig, was killed by a stray bullet while taking a walk in Edgehill Memorial Gardens Park on Nov. 7.  


She was 18 years old.  


They came to witness the passage of “Jillian’s Law (House Bill 1640),” a bill named in her honor. It would bar those deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial from buying or possessing a firearm.


The defendant would also be required to be committed to a facility to appropriately address the specific mental illness or intellectual disability.  


The bill passed in both the House and Senate on April 15, becoming one of the first pieces of legislation to address gun violence in some form to pass in the state since Ludwig’s death.

 

“We're happy that the bill passed, and there can be some good in the future in Jillian's name, that her death was not in vain. We're heartbroken, and nothing's going to bring her back, but at least there'll be some good, and she can help save lives,” said Jessica Ludwig.  


The Ludwigs did not watch the vote count alone. Behind them, placing a comforting hand on their shoulders, were Belmont freshmen Livia Mehalovich and Eddie Winey.  


Mehalovich, Ludwig’s former roommate, and Winey, a friend of Ludwig, have spent the months since her death not just grieving the loss of a friend but also advocating for legislative change in a state neither are constituents of.  


More Belmont students gathered on the opposite balcony. Some of them wore matching T-shirts bearing a simple message: “Justice for Jillian.”  


“If this bill was put into place prior there are multiple people who would still be alive today, including Jill,” said Winey.  


Shaquille Taylor, the suspect facing felony murder charges for Ludwig’s death, was arrested for aggravated assault in 2021 but was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.  


He was also found to not be an imminent threat to himself or others, so he was released from custody.  


With Gov. Bill Lee signing the bill, that loophole will be closed.    


Rep. William Lambeth, R-Portland, introduced the bill in January.  


Jessica and Matt Ludwig spoke to the House Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 6, pleading with legislators for change.  


Jessica Ludwig wore a “Justice for Jillian” shirt, one of the 100 Mehalovich and Winey sold at an event earlier that week at Bongo Java to garner support for the bill.  


The two freshmen also testified, bringing a box filled with 150 letters signed by Belmont students asking the Committee to advance the bill.  


Mehalovich didn’t have to think twice about taking action.  


“Seeing Jess and Matt have the courage to do it helped. It just didn't really feel like an option. It just felt like, obviously we have to do it,” Mehalovich said.  


In the following months, the bill passed through House committees and garnered bipartisan support.  


That did not mean discussion around it was not fiery.  


During the April 15 session, Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, criticized Lamberth and Republicans to “do more” as it relates to gun legislation, including mental health waiting periods for buying guns and red flag laws, which would temporarily seize firearms if a court believed the owner presents a danger.  


“You know what, let's take a good step together and show folks in Tennessee how we can join together and actually make this state safer. If we did that more often, we would get more done on this issue instead of just pontificating about it. This is the step that I took, this is the bill that I filed, this is the family that I’m fighting for,” Lamberth yelled while pointing to the Ludwigs.  


Rep. Gloria Johnson, D- Knoxville, expressed concern over the adequacy of state facilities and the possibility of individuals with intellectual disabilities being placed in jails while awaiting psychiatric placement.  


The amount of available psychiatric beds in the state is at an “all-time low,” according to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center.   


Despite the moment of heated debate, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate with a vote of 28-0.  


No one in the House voted against the bill, but four representatives declined to vote.  


“We see reason for hope. This is a first step towards strengthening our background check system. So we see this as a conversation forward,” said Erin Rogus, policy analyst for Voices for a Safer Tennessee, a gun-reform nonprofit founded in the days following the Covenant School shooting.  


What “forward” looks like is currently unclear in a state shadowed by a year of gun violence and bitter partisan divides over the proper response to it.  


Some see Jillian’s Law as primarily concerned with mental health rather than gun control since the bill allocates $2.1 million in Gov. Lee’s budget to fund mental health facilities in the state. 

 

“This is a mental health issue. Our main focus with getting this passed was not to take away from the gun issues of Tennessee because that's obviously a really important thing. But if we made that the main focus it wouldn't have gotten passed. We know what kind of state we're living in,” Mehalovich said.  


Similar legislation aimed at addressing public safety relating to mental health and crime failed to get through the General Assembly in the past.  


During Tennessee’s special session in August, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, introduced House Bill 7036, which would require involuntary commitment to a mental institution for individuals deemed likely to pose “imminent substantial harm.”  


The bill was tabled during the Senate’s haste to adjourn the session. 



He also said in November that those deemed incompetent to stand trial should be involuntarily committed to a facility.  


However, it was two months until Lamberth filed a bill that would require it.  


“The most frustrating part that we have to ask ourselves is why didn't somebody think of this before? It's great to see everybody working together. Of course, you always have outliers in the House today. They want to do more, and I get it,” said Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, and sponsor of Jillian’s Law.  


Although the proper next steps to take are still in debate, the consensus from Republicans and Democrats alike is that Jillian’s Law is a step in the right direction.  


For Jillian’s loved ones, it is much more than another piece of legislation.  


“This only just proves that change can happen if we put our minds to it. If we want to be the change, we can. These people work for us, and I think we tend to forget that,” said Winey.  


For its advocates, Jillian’s law felt long overdue.  


Its passage now comes as both a moment of relief and an opportunity to continue to keep her memory alive.  


“Just the few months that I had with her was enough for me to work for the rest of my life to give her justice,” said Winey.  


Beyond the hopes of making Tennessee safer and preventing future deaths, Jessica Ludwig hopes to keep at the forefront of the conversation the daughter, sister, friend and passionate musician who was much more than the events of her death.  


She started the Rae of Light Foundation, named after Jillian’s middle name, which will carry her daughter’s legacy by providing student music scholarships.  


“Jillian only liked being in the spotlight when she was on stage. I think that somewhere she's getting a big chuckle out of all this attention because she certainly wouldn't have wanted it. I hope she’s getting a laugh somewhere, and I hope she’s proud of us,” Ludwig said.  


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This article was written by Kathleen Harrington

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sorryhalibut
2 days ago

It's tragic that it took such a devastating loss for change to occur, but the passage of "Jillian's Law" is a significant step forward. It's a reminder of the importance of grassroots advocacy and the power of individuals to make a difference in their communities. tunnel rush

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Alex Reynolds
Alex Reynolds
7 days ago

I feel strongly about it and love finding out more about it. If you could, as you learn more, would you mind adding more information to your blog quordle


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Goodwin Peter
Goodwin Peter
May 23

Jillian's Law is a testament to the power of advocacy and the impact a determined family can have. Kudos to the Ludwigs and everyone who supported them. tunnel rush

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thomasfrank1803
May 22

I like how this article captures the emotional journey behind Jillian's Law. It's a story of loss, Buckshot Roulette advocacy, and the determination to honor a life tragically cut short.

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