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Tennessee Legislature passes bill allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons

Protesters chanted “Blood on your hands” Tuesday in front of Tennessee House Republicans after passed a bill It would allow some teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns on public school grounds and would prevent parents and other teachers from knowing who was armed.

The 68-28 vote in favor of the bill sent it to Republican Gov. Bill Lee for consideration. If he signs it into law, it would be the largest expansion of gun access in the state since last year’s deadly shooting at a private elementary school in Nashville.

Members of the public opposed to the bill harangued Republican lawmakers after the vote, leading House Speaker Cameron Sexton to order the galleries cleaned.

Emmie Wolf-Dubin, center, shouts during a protest outside the Tennessee House chamber after the passage of a law allowing some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session on April 23, 2024 in Nashville , Tennessee.

George Walker IV / AP

Four House Republicans and all Democrats opposed the bill, which the state Senate previously passed. The measure would prohibit revealing which employees carry weapons outside of school administrators and police, including to students’ parents and even other teachers. A principal, a school district, and a law enforcement agency would have to agree to allow staff to carry weapons.

Under the bill passed Tuesday, a worker wishing to carry a handgun will be required to have a permit to carry a handgun and written permission from the school principal and local law enforcement. They will also have to pass a background check and complete 40 hours of handgun training. They could not carry weapons to school events in stadiums, gymnasiums or auditoriums.

The proposal presents a dramatically different response to the Covenant School shooting than what Lee proposed last year. Republican lawmakers quickly cast aside his push to keep guns away from people considered a danger to themselves or others.

A Lee veto appears unlikely since it would be a first for him and lawmakers would only need a simple majority of members in each chamber to override it.

“What you’re doing is creating a deterrent effect,” bill sponsor Republican Rep. Ryan Williams said before the vote. “Across our state, we have faced issues related to shootings.”

Republicans rejected a series of Democratic amendments, including requirements for parental consent, notification when a person is armed and civil liability of the school district for any injury, damage or death due to the carrying of weapons by the staff.

“My Republican colleagues continue to hold our state hostage, holding it at gunpoint to appeal to their donors in the gun industry,” said Democratic Rep. Justin Jones. “It’s morally foolish.”

In the chaos that followed the vote, Democratic and Republican lawmakers accused each other of violating House rules but voted only to reprimand Jones for recording on his phone. He was banned from speaking until Wednesday.

It’s unclear whether any school districts would benefit if the bill becomes law. For example, Sean Braisted, a spokesman for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said the district believes “it is best and safest for only approved active duty law enforcement to carry weapons on the campus “.

About half of U.S. states in some way allow teachers or other employees with concealed carry permits to carry firearms on school grounds, according to the Giffords Law Center , a gun control advocacy group. Iowa’s governor signed a bill passed by the Legislature last week, creating a professional license that trained school employees can carry in schools and that protects them from criminal or civil liability if they use a reasonable force.

In Tennessee, a shooter opened fire indiscriminately in March 2023 at The Covenant School – a Christian school in Nashville – and killed three children and three adults before being killed by police.

Despite subsequent coordinated campaigns calling for meaningful gun control measures, lawmakers largely refused. They rejected gun control proposals from Democrats and even Lee during the regular annual sessions and a special session, even as parents of Covenant students shared their stories about the shooting and its lasting effects.

Tennessee passed a law in 2016 allowing armed school personnel in two rural counties, but it has not been implemented, according to WPLN-FM.

Tennessee Republicans have steadily loosened gun laws, including a 2021 permitless carry law for handguns supported by Lee.

The original law allowed residents 21 and older to carry handguns in public without a license. Two years later, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti reached a deal in an ongoing lawsuit to expand eligibility to 18- to 20-year-olds.

Meanwhile, shortly after last year’s shooting, Tennessee Republicans passed a law strengthening protections against lawsuits involving gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers. Lawmakers and the governor agreed this year to allow private schools with pre-kindergarten classes to have guns on campus. Private schools without pre-kindergarten were already allowed to decide whether they would allow people to bring guns onto their grounds.

They put forward some narrow limitations on firearms. The one awaiting the governor’s signature would involuntarily lock some criminal defendants into inpatient treatment and temporarily strip them of their gun rights if they are found incompetent for trial due to intellectual disability or mental illness.

Another bill that still must be approved by the Senate would strip the gun rights of minors considered delinquent due to certain offenses, ranging from aggravated assault to threats of mass violence, until the age 25 years old.

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