Tennessee Passes Bill to Allow Teachers to Carry Concealed Handguns

Tennessee Passes Bill to Allow Teachers to Carry Concealed Handguns

Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday to allow teachers and other school staff members to carry concealed handguns on school campuses. The measure, if it goes into law, would require those carrying guns to undergo training and have the approval of school officials, but parents and most other school employees would not be notified.

The bill is one of the most significant pieces of public safety legislation to advance in Tennessee after a shooting just over a year ago at a private Christian school in Nashville left three students and three staff members dead. The attack galvanized parents at the school and many others in Tennessee — including the state’s Republican governor — to demand action that could prevent similar violence.

But many of them believed that restricting access to guns was the solution, and critics of the legislation have argued that bringing more weapons onto school campuses would not improve safety and could even amplify the danger facing students.

“I ask that you don’t put our children’s lives at risk by putting more and more guns in schools,” State Senator London Lamar, a Democrat from Memphis, said during a debate this month as she cradled her infant son. “It is really hard, even as a new mom, to stand here and have to be composed on a piece of legislation that I know puts my son’s life at risk,” she added.

The bill’s supporters have disputed that contention, arguing that the measure would protect students, not only because trained adults would have access to guns but also because their presence could act as a deterrent to a would-be assailant.

“We are not trying to shoot a student but protect a student from an active shooter whose sole purpose is to get in that school and kill people,” State Senator Ken Yager, a Republican, said.

The bill significantly expands the current law, which mostly limits the carrying of firearms to law enforcement officers employed at a public school or to school resource officers.

The new legislation would broaden that to school staff members who have an enhanced handgun carry permit and who have the approval of their principal, district director and leaders of relevant local law enforcement agencies. The measure also imposes confidentiality rules around the disclosure of who is carrying a concealed handgun.

The staff member must also complete 40 hours of school policing training, undergo a background check, submit fingerprints to state and federal authorities, and submit a psychological certification from a licensed health provider. The handgun cannot be carried in auditoriums or stadiums during school events; during disciplinary or tenure meetings; or in a clinic.

Other states have made similar moves. State lawmakers in Florida rolled back an existing ban and gave some teachers the ability to carry a firearm a year after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a high school in Parkland. Ohio reduced the instruction required of teachers and other staff members to carry firearms in schools, soon after a massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in 2022.

The bill in Tennessee faced stiff opposition from Democrats and even some Republicans, yet the House passed the legislation by an overwhelming margin, underscoring the strength of the Republican supermajority in the State Legislature and the party’s resistance to curtailing access to guns.

Last year, Gov. Bill Lee, whose family had a connection to a teacher killed in the shooting, pushed lawmakers to approve a law that would allow for the temporary confiscation of firearms from people found to be a danger to themselves or others. Fellow Republicans in the legislature rebuffed his effort.

With the bill to allow teachers to carry guns, critics raised concerns about the choices an armed teacher would have to make between confronting an assailant or protecting a class of students, as well as the risks that come from having guns on campuses.

“How will guns be stored? How do you ensure kids won’t get access to them? How do you ensure a gun isn’t used in a tense situation at school?” Cathy Barnett, a volunteer with the Tennessee Chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “These are all critical questions about this type of legislation that never gets answered.”

Democrats also argued that Republicans, who had supported other legislation aimed at empowering parents, were contradicting themselves with a bill that would prevent notifying parents about a teacher who is armed.

State Senator Paul Bailey, a Republican sponsor of the bill, countered that “nothing in this legislation requires that teacher to engage.” The confidentiality provisions, he added, helped preserve “the element of surprise.”

Supporters also contended that the legislation responded to the reality in more rural areas of the state, where vast counties and relatively small law enforcement agencies could hamper a swift response.

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