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Should teachers be armed? The Tennessee Senate says yes

Lawmakers voted 26-5 along party lines on a bill that would allow teachers in the state to be armed after passing a series of safety tests.
Should teachers be armed? The Tennessee Senate says yes
Posted at 12:17 PM, Apr 10, 2024

Tensions mounted in the Tennessee Senate on Tuesday when troopers had to remove people from the gallery as lawmakers voted on a bill that would allow teachers to carry handguns in schools.

Senate members voted 26-5 along party lines to approve the legislation. It comes just one year after The Covenant School mass shooting claimed the lives of three kids and three adults at a Nashville Christian elementary school. 

The House version of the bill is still on hold, but it can be brought up again this legislative session, meaning it's not dead. SB1325 and HB1202 would allow faculty or staff at a school to carry a concealed handgun on school property.

SEE MORE: Most school shootings caused by guns taken from relatives

How it would work

For those wanting to carry, they would have to go through several steps to do so.

Teachers wanting to carry would have to:

- Have an enhanced carry permit.

- Get written authorization from the superintendent, principal and law enforcement.

- Complete 40 hours of basic training in school policing and 40 hours of POST commission-approved training that is specific to school policing each year in order to keep the authorization.

- Obtain a background check.

- Undergo a psychological exam conducted by a Tennessee-licensed psychologist.

Those carrying would also have immunity from any financial damages, and parents wouldn't know which teachers are armed.

"Regarding the portion of confidentially, that is because of the element of surprise," Republican Sen. Paul Bailey said. "If you are a possible intruder, you don't know if the person you encounter is an authorized faculty or staff member. That maybe will change their mind about coming."

SEE MORE: Scripps investigates incidents of guns in US schools

How the conversation went among lawmakers

While the bill went through its Senate processes, people were asked to leave the gallery as they were loud in opposition to the bill. Democrats, though they are a small group, voted against the bill.

"I saw many laughing like it's funny," said Democratic Sen. London Lamar. "I am offended by many of my colleagues on the floor. This is one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation to come out of this assembly. They took an oath to give our kids writing and arithmetic, and we are now making them as law enforcement. It will enable the next school shooter. It's going to be a teacher with this next legislation. Use common sense."

Other Democratic lawmakers tried to get others to extend empathy and pointed out that many up on the Hill to discuss legislation for keeping kids safer at school haven't asked for the bill. They also brought up that it's not teachers clamoring to carry on campuses.

"This isn't sane," said Democratic Sen. Heidi Campbell, who has constituents in her district that were affected by The Covenant School mass shooting in 2023. "This isn't healthy. It's obvious that people are passionately telling us they don't want it to happen. What is freedom? They want the freedom to be able to send their kids to school without their kids being shot by a gun. That's freedom. It seems like we do backflips to protect people who sell guns."

SEE MORE: Schools across US are adapting safety codes because of gun violence

Republican Sen. Ken Yager said he felt like what was being said was incorrect, but he didn't point to what was inaccurate during his articulation of denouncing Democratic comments. However, he felt arming teachers would keep his schools safer because of the rural nature of the district he represents.

"The subject is emotionally charged. I am standing in support of this bill," Yager said. "Rural counties like I serve, where they may only have two deputies on a shift, what can be wreaked in that 30 minute period? Protect children. That's what it's all about."

What happened to protesters?

Senate leadership had the Tennessee Highway Patrol come in to clear the gallery of any demonstrators protesting against the bill. Covenant mom Sarah Shoop Neumann said the noise and the troopers rushing into the gallery gave her PTSD, making it difficult for her to be there.

"It shows another example of not hearing those in Tennessee," Neumann said. "I sit silently. I do as they ask as many others did. It's unfair to clear a room of everyone because you're unhappy with their belief system. When I heard people being loud, I knew this was how things would end. I am not surprised. I have met with multiple legislators on this bill. They have put some thoughtful consideration, but it would be my ask with no one with a direct responsibility of students have a gun. There's a lot more that needs to happen and we aren't going anywhere. I have voted conservative or independent my entire life. This is something we are all asking for. We can't shut people down and kick them out."

This story was originally published by Emily R. West at Scripps News Nashville.

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