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Tennessee Senate advances bill to arm teachers a year after deadly Nashville school shooting

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April 10, 2024
By The Associated Press

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee advanced a proposal Tuesday to allow some teachers to carry handguns on public school grounds, a move that would mark one of the state’s biggest expansions of gun access since a deadly shooting at a private elementary school last year.

The proposal cleared the GOP-controlled chamber amid emotional chants and screams from protesters against the legislation. Many were eventually ordered to leave the Senate galleries.

After receiving a 26-5 Senate vote, the proposal is now ready for a House floor vote. The bill would bar disclosing which employees are carrying guns beyond school administrators and police, including to parents of students and even other teachers. A principal, school district and law enforcement agency would have to agree to let staff carry guns.

“I’m upset. My child is at risk under this bill,” said Democratic state Sen. London Lamar, holding her 8-month-old son. “This bill is dangerous and teachers don’t want it. Nobody wants it.”


Senate Speaker Randy McNally, a Republican, cleared the galleries after many protesters refused to quiet down even as he gaveled them down repeatedly for disruptions. In the nearly 15 minutes it took to remove the audience and resume the debate, they continued chanting, “Vote them out;” “No more silence, end gun violence;” and “Kill the bill, not the kids.”

The heated debate comes about a year after a shooter indiscriminately opened fire last March at The Covenant School — a Christian institution in Nashville — and killed three children and three adults before being fatally shot by police. Despite sweeping, coordinated efforts after the shooting to convince Tennessee’s Republican-dominant statehouse to enact significant gun control measures, lawmakers have largely balked at such calls. They’ve dismissed proposals on the topic by Democrats — and even one by the Republican governor — during regular annual sessions and a special session.

Only a handful of GOP supporters spoke in favor of the bill, taking time to stress that teachers would not be required to be armed or use their weapons in active shooter situations. They argued that it could be particularly helpful in rural counties with limited law enforcement resources.

“It’s time that we look at the facts of the bill, that we are not trying to shoot a student, but protect a student from an active shooter whose sole purpose is to get into that school and kill people,” Republican Sen. Ken Yager said.

A worker who wants to carry a handgun would need to have a handgun carry permit, have written authorization from both the school’s principal and local law enforcement, clear a background check and undergo 40 hours of handgun training.

“We’re sending teachers to learn how to handle a combat situation that veteran law enforcement have trouble comprehending,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro. “We’re letting people do that with a week’s training,” he said.

Several parents of Covenant School students watched on in opposition to the bill.

“It is so extremely disappointing, just as a mother,” said Mary Joyce, one of the Covenant mothers. “We’re very disappointed at how things went today, and we can absolutely do way better.”

Tennessee Republicans have pushed to loosen gun laws over the years, including signing off on permitless carry for handguns in 2021.

Most recently, House Republicans advanced a proposal out of committee that would expand the state’s permitless carry law to include long guns.

The original law allowed residents 21 and older to carry handguns in public without a permit. Yet two years later, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti struck a deal amid an ongoing lawsuit that then allowed 18- to 20-year-olds to carry handguns publicly. The bill approved Monday has been slowly making its way through the statehouse, but still must clear the House and Senate.

Meanwhile, last year, Tennessee Republicans passed a law bolstering protections against lawsuits involving gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers. This year, they are awaiting the governor’s decision on a bill that would allow private schools with pre-kindergarten classes to have guns on campus. Private schools without pre-K already can decide whether to let people bring guns on their grounds.

Separately, Senate Republicans on Tuesday advanced an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution’s “right to keep, bear, and wear arms” that would broaden the right beyond defense and delete a section giving lawmakers the ability “to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime.” If approved, that wouldn’t be on the ballot until 2026.

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