Angry protests as Tennessee Republicans pass law allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons

Campaigners argue that arming teachers puts school children at greater risk, not less

Dan Gooding
Tuesday 09 April 2024 23:44 BST
Parents and gun safety protestors voiced their anger inside Tennessee’s Senate chamber
Parents and gun safety protestors voiced their anger inside Tennessee’s Senate chamber (WKRN News 2)

Tennessee teachers could soon carry concealed handguns in the classroom after Republican state senators passed a bill amid angry protests.

The bill’s passing comes a few weeks after the first anniversary of the mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, which left six students and staff dead.

Around 200 gun-reform advocates disrupted proceedings on Tuesday as they voiced their opposition to the bill from the Senate’s gallery, according to The Tennessean, with some eventually removed from the room.

They were angry at the plans which would allow teachers and other school staff to carry guns, with the legislation also including a ban on anyone else carrying firearms on school property.

Teachers would not need to disclose if they are carrying a weapon, the bill says - something which led to chants of “shame on you” from the gallery.

The bill still needs to pass the Tennessee General Assembly’s House, with no date yet set for it to be tabled.

If the new rules come in, Tennessee would join over 30 states which allow school personnel or teachers to carry a firearm, something gun safety groups have spoken out against repeatedly.

Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action argue that arming teachers puts children at further risk.

“We should be listening to Tennessee law enforcement, teachers, superintendents and more who have spoken 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,” Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, a volunteer with the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action, said in a press release.

“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.”

Following the school shooting, Governor Bill Lee introduced legislation to tighten background checks for gun purchases, but Everytown argues that he also pushed to put more firearms in schools in reaction to the school shooting.

The campaign group also argues that “an armed teacher is much more likely to shoot a student bystander or be shot by responding law enforcement than to be an effective solution to an active shooter in a school.”

A Covenant School mother at Tuesday’s senate session appeared to hold a similar view, saying teachers doing their job and following active-shooter training saved her kids from the shooter armed with an assault-style rifle.

"A handgun will do nothing against that," Beth Gebhard told The Tennessean. "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."

Those teachers who do wish to carry a firearm will have to get an enhanced handgun carry permit and complete annual training with law enforcement.

Democrats in the chamber voiced their concern over this.

“We’re sending people to 40 hours of training ... to learn how to handle a combat situation that law enforcement officers have trouble dealing with," Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said.

Students and those training to become teachers have also voiced their concerns.

“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,” Bobbi Sloan, a volunteer leader with Vanderbilt Students Demand Action chapter, said in a press release.

“For every gun that’s placed in a classroom, a new opportunity is created for students to become another statistic. 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.”

Education Week reports that there have been 10 school shootings alone in 2024, with 192 since 2018, with 6 of those in states which allow school personnel to carry a firearm.

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