protesters of Tennessee bill to arm teachers

Moms Demand Action members protest a Tennessee bill to arm teachers on April 9, 2024.

(Photo: Moms Demand Action Tennessee/Facebook)

'Absolutely Absurd': Tennessee GOP Advances Concealed Guns for Teachers

"We should not be afraid to send our kids to school, but extremist lawmakers are hellbent on expanding the gun lobby's guns everywhere agenda and putting our kids at risk," said one state campaigner.

Gun control advocates, including families of mass shooting survivors, condemned Tennessee Senate Republicans for a 26-5 vote along party lines on Tuesday to advance legislation allowing teachers and staff to carry concealed firearms in public schools.

"Since the devastating shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville last year, the [Tennessee] Legislature has had the opportunity to take meaningful action on gun safety," said Moms Demand Action executive director Angela Ferrell-Zabala. "Instead, they have chosen to 'debate the safety of their communities' behind closed doors in a process that has often excluded their constituents and their own colleagues."

"In fact, the only thing the Tennessee Republican Party and Gov. Bill Lee have done to answer our cries for gun safety since three children and three adults were killed at the Covenant School last year is move to ARM TEACHERS," she continued. "This will not make our schools or our communities safer."

The Senate GOP passed the bill despite objections from parents of children who survived the shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian institution. It now heads to the state House of Representatives, which has just 24 Democrats and 75 Republicans—who, over the past year, have ignored demands for stricter gun laws and tried to silence lawmakers who fight for them.

"We expect [Tennessee] legislators to heed the cries of their constituents and take meaningful action on gun safety now—and to do it in the light of day," said Ferrell-Zabala. "And don't forget—elections matter. You want something different for [Tennessee]? VOTE THEM OUT."

Bobbi Sloan, a volunteer leader with the Students Demand Action chapter at Vanderbilt University, said that "as a student studying to be a teacher, I know that managing a classroom is already tough enough without adding a deadly weapon into the mix."

"For every gun that's placed in a classroom, a new opportunity is created for students to become another statistic," Sloan warned. "This is not the solution. In fact, it's absolutely absurd to respond to our cries for change with a bill that will only endanger us more."

During the Senate debate, gun reform advocates filled the gallery—though after several disruptions, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-5) ordered state troopers to clear the area of all but a group of Covenant School mothers, according to The Tennessean.

Beth Gebhard, whose 9-year-old daughter Ava and 12-year-old son Hudson survived the Covenant shooting, opposes the bill. Clearing the Senate gallery was "cowardly," she told the newsaper. "If they are supposed to be representative of our voice and they are dismissing these people... they are not for us and it is appalling... It's so upsetting. It makes me want to move."

Linda McFadyen-Ketchum—a volunteer with the state chapter of Moms Demand Action who was dragged out of the gallery by law enforcement—argued that "we should be listening to Tennessee law enforcement, teachers, superintendents, and more who have spoke out against arming teachers."

"And, most importantly, we should be listening to Tennesseans, who are worried that their children won't come home from school every day," she declared. "We should not be afraid to send our kids to school, but extremist lawmakers are hellbent on expanding the gun lobby's guns everywhere agenda and putting our kids at risk. Lawmakers should reject this legislation immediately."

As Chalkbeatreported Tuesday, if a local school district and law enforcement agency agreed to the legislative proposal, sponsored by Tennessee Sen. Paul Bailey (R-15) and Rep. Ryan Williams (R-42), "interested teachers and school staff who have an enhanced handgun permit would have to complete 40 hours of certified training in school policing at their own expense."

They would also have to pass a mental health evaluation and background check, and renew the training annually. Chalkbeat noted that "parents would not be notified if their child's teacher is armed. And one provision of the bill shields districts and law enforcement agencies from potential civil lawsuits over how a teacher or school employee uses, or doesn't use, a handgun."

Gebhard told The Tennessean that she cannot imagine a teacher having to face a shooter armed with an assault-style rifle.

"A handgun will do nothing against that," the Covenant mother said. "If what had happened on March 27 had gone down the way that it did with a teacher armed with a handgun attempting to put the perpetrator out, my children would likely be dead."

Tennessee Republican lawmakers are not alone in trying to implement or expand policies to arm teachers and school staff. GOP legislators have pushed similar bills in other states this year, including Iowa, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah, and West Virginia.

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