Explosive Protests Rock Tennessee as Controversial Bill to Arm School Staff Advances

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The Tennessee House passed a bill on Tuesday allowing school personnel and teachers to carry guns on campus. The Tennessee House passed the legislation on Tuesday, more than a full year after a mass shooting occurred at The Covenant School.

Democrats claimed that the bill would reduce children’s safety. The bill’s supporters argue that the measure would make it easier for would-be mass killers to murder school children.

Tennessee House Republicans passed legislation on Tuesday allowing some teachers and school staff who have been trained to carry handguns. This was despite calls from Democrats, gun reform advocates, and students to oppose the bill.

As soon as the bill passed, dozens of protestors began chanting, “Blood is on your hands”. This prompted House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) to order the state troopers in the gallery to clear them. As the House floor became chaotic over parliamentary issues, many protestors continued chanting and stomping down on lawmakers.

In the end, four Republicans joined Democrats to vote against the bill. Three others abstained from voting. The measure passed the House with 68 to 28 votes and will be law in a few weeks as Gov. Bill Lee has the option to sign it or let it become law without signing it. Lee has never vetoed any bill.

Teachers who are armed will not have to inform parents or most of their co-workers that they are armed. They will only be required to complete a training program, which some critics claim is insufficient.

Teachers will be allowed to carry guns as long as they comply with the requirements:

  • Teachers who want to carry guns in the classroom must go through a process.
  • Written authorization is required from the principal, superintendent, and head of law enforcement in their city/county.
  • To maintain the authorization, you must complete each year 40 hours in basic school policing training and 40 hours in POST-approved school policing training.
  • You must get a background check
  • Undergo a psychological examination by a Tennessee-licensed psychologist

Democrats tried to amend this measure in multiple ways. They wanted to make it mandatory for teachers to lock up their handguns and to hold them civilly responsible if they used their firearms on campus. A second amendment would have mandated that the school inform parents of any gun on campus. These amendments failed to pass.

Democrats have criticized the bill, saying that it will not stop school shootings and may put students at risk. State Rep. John Ray Clemmons described the bill as “a disaster waiting to happen” if personal responsibility is not taken. He also stated that “our children’s lives were at risk.”

A letter containing more than 5,000 names was sent to Tennessee legislators urging them not to vote for the bill.

The letter was written by parents of students who attended The Covenant School, a Nashville school where three children and three members of staff were killed last spring. The signature count was 5,366 as of 1 p.m. on Monday. It included parents, grandparents and teachers from Tennessee, along with medical professionals and community members.

The organizers behind the letter expressed their “devastation” at the passage of SB1325/HB1202 by the Senate despite vocal protests at the beginning of this month. The full House could vote on the measure this week, as lawmakers wind down their regular sessions.

The letter stated, “While we want to see safe schools and a stop to gun violence, arming educators with guns is not the solution.” It ignores the research that shows that the presence of guns increases the risk posed to kids.

Rep. Jason Powell stated that law enforcement officers would not feel comfortable entering a school with guns and that this would “delay response” and cause confusion. He asked, “How will we know who the attacker is and which teacher is armed?”

Some Democrats have reacted against the absence of a requirement that parents be informed about the presence of firearms on campuses.

Justin Pearson, D, Memphis, said, “I have heard about parental consent so many times, and that it is a parent’s responsibility to raise their children.” He called the bill, which was introduced on Tuesday, “absolutely crazy.” “I think it is a parent’s responsibility to know whether their child’s safety is at risk if someone has a gun in the classroom that a child can find and that could discharge, harming them or others.”

Every time there is a shooting at a school, the debate about arming teachers comes up. The argument is that the best way to stop mass shootings would be for schools to harden their campuses by employing strong security measures and having armed staff on campus. Opponents are focusing solely on gun restrictions that have proven ineffective in preventing mass shootings.

It is easy to understand why parents are concerned about arming their school staff. Tragically, even this conversation needs to take place. With the recent wave of school shootings, we need to find effective solutions instead of gun control laws that are meant to make people happy without saving lives.