State Senate Passes Bill Allowing Teachers To Carry Guns; Chambers Cleared Due To Outcry From Opponents

  • Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The Tennessee Senate passed at a chaotic Tuesday afternoon session a bill that is already sparking controversy by gun safety advocates. The bill passed 26 to 5 with local senators Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun), Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) , Bo Watson (R-Hixson), and Ken Yager (R-Kingston) voting for it. All five no votes were from Democrats from Nashville and Memphis.

Senate Bill 7019 would allow teachers and school administrators to carry a concealed firearm inside their classrooms and schools provided that they meet certain requirements.

The bill, sponsored by District 15 Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), would require training for educators and:

- Have a valid handgun permit

- Have a letter of authorization from the board of education, the principal, and the chief of police or sheriff.

- Undergo a psychological evaluation and background check

- And, complete 40 hours of firearm training per year.

The qualifications are like those required of law enforcement officers in the state of Tennessee. A heated debate broke out among those against the bill on the Senate floor and the gallery. Several in the gallery started shouting, “Vote Them Out.” Speaker McNally again admonished the crowd to remain silent during the proceedings. They continued and he had troopers clear the gallery. The people continued to chant as they were being escorted out of the Senate Chamber. One even threatened Speaker McNally, saying, “You're next.”

"If a principal of an elementary school decides that they don't want to participate in this permissive program," said Senator Paul Bailey, "then that elementary school would not fall under this. There has been a lot of disinformation on this legislation. This bill does not require any teacher in this state to carry a gun while working. This bill is completely permissive. It simply gives the teacher or faculty member the option. I have worked with the Department of Safety, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association and the Tennessee Chiefs of Police Association on this legislation. All are neutral and all have weighed in.”

Democratic leaders say the bill is 'irresponsible' and 'dangerous.'

The law wouldn't require schools to notify parents if teachers had a gun inside their child's classroom.

"And if I was a parent and I made steps to make sure my child wasn't around a handgun in as school where they are supposed to learn, "said State Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). "I would be extremely uncomfortable." She questioned Senator Bailey about the parents being notified if there was a gun in the classroom. “This goes against every single discussion we’ve had on parental choice in this body.” She went on to say that she hates that this has become a political issue on guns, “because this is a bipartisan issue.”

She went on to add that the reason this legislation is needed is, “because we have people who shouldn’t have weapons who go in school buildings and kill children.”

Senator Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville) said, “This is just putting a band-aid on the situation. I have received many calls on this legislation and would like to see many changes to it.” She did offer several amendments to the bill, which were tabled by the Senate. She said, “We are bringing guns into the classroom. People should not be subjected to this stress. They should not be teaching under this duress. This legislation requires that the person bringing the handgun be kept confidential. This will cause anxiety to people and how can they teach under these conditions.”

Senator Lowe said, “This bill creates a local option for systems and sheriffs, upon agreement, to use highly trained teachers, many of them former law enforcement, to protect our children by being part of an active shooter plan. It allows those who want it to use it and those who don’t can decline it. It is one more step in allowing our local law enforcement to be more adaptable. They (the teachers and administrators) can prevent bad people from doing bad things.”

Opponents say guns shouldn't be in the hands of those who aren't law enforcement and fear a weapon inside a classroom would lead to more problems.

"We already have a problem with youth popping cars in all our cities across the state," said District 29 Senator London Lamar, (D-Memphis). "What makes you think they won't pop a desk and take a gun? Use common sense." Senator Lamar stood with her infant child in her arms to debate the bill on the Senate floor.

Supporters of the bill say it offers teachers another option during an active shooter incident, so, in the crucial time it takes first responders to arrive, trained teachers can act.

"It's time we look at the facts of the bill that we're 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," said District 12 State Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston).

The House companion bill HB1202 sponsored by State Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) is still in the Civil Justice Committee and has not had any activity since it was introduced in August of 2023. It was taken up during the special called session of the State Legislature called by Governor Bill Lee to consider gun control legislation. Rep. Williams lives in Senator Bailey’s district.

Dozens of mothers lined the doors outside the Senate holding the names of victims from the Nashville Covenant School mass shooting as senators walked into the Senate Chambers before the session started.

The Senate also passed on second reading Senate Joint Resolution 0904 by Senator John Stevens (R-Huntington), which is a Tennessee Constitutional Amendment to Article 1 Section 26 of the Constitution of Tennessee. It aims to remove the provision that authorizes the State Legislature to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime and to state that citizens have a right to keep, bear and wear arms for their defense and not just for the common defense. It will have one more reading before it is finalized.

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