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Tennessee bill allows teachers to carry guns in schools

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-04-25 10:34

A gun reform activist looks on as protesters gather in the House gallery at the Tennessee State Capitol building as the House votes to adopt Senate Bill 1325 that would authorize teachers, principals, and school personnel to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds, in Nashville, Tennessee, US, April 23, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Tennessee's Republican-controlled House passed a bill Tuesday to allow trained teachers and school personnel to carry concealed handguns on school campuses despite strong opposition from Democratic lawmakers, students, parents and other anti-gun activists.

Scores of protesters gathered inside the state Capitol chanting, "Blood on your hands," as soon as the bill was passed. House Speaker Cameron Sexton called in state troopers to clear out the protesters.

Four Republican lawmakers voted against the bill along with all Democrats, and three abstained, as the bill passed, 68-28. It passed the state Senate earlier this month.

The bill is likely to become law because Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is not expected to veto it. Lee can either sign the bill or let it become law without doing anything.

Under the bill, teachers and school staff members who already have a gun permit are allowed to carry concealed handguns in classrooms and on campus after they complete 40 hours of school policing training, pass a background check, submit fingerprints, obtain a psychological certification from a licensed health provider, and gain the approval of their principal, district director and leaders of relevant local law enforcement agencies.

The parents and most of their colleagues will not be notified of the fact that they're armed under confidentiality rules.

Tennessee Republicans in favor of the bill said that trained staff can increase school security, particularly in rural areas where law enforcement may be more sparsely staffed with longer response times.

The bill's sponsor Republican Ryan Williams said his bill was aimed at protecting students and acting as a deterrent for potential school security threats. He said that the bill is "permissive", meaning no school would be required to allow guns on campus. However, the bill appears to require administrators to consider every individual who wants to carry.

Democratic lawmakers were skeptical that it could effectively stop a school shooter and concerned about unintended consequences such as a teacher leaving a gun unattended or the use of increased force during in-school disciplining.

"This is nothing but a bad disaster and tragedy waiting to happen if we do not ensure personal responsibility," House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons said. "Our children's lives are at stake."

The passage of the bill came about a year after a shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville in which a 28-year-old former student killed six people, including three children.

Sarah Neumann, a Covenant School mom, delivered a letter to the House on Monday with more than 5,300 signatures against the bill, reported The Tennessean.

The letter said there are gaps in training, and burdening teachers with the responsibilities of confronting an assailant with a gun while keeping an entire classroom safe. The parents were also concern about the secrecy clause in the bill which bars school administrators from revealing who carry guns in the school.

The "Women for Gun Rights" account on X posted in favor of the legislation: "'Gun Free Zones' like schools undermine the safety and well-being of our children. By signing SB1325 into law, Gov Bill Lee can empower teachers to become first responders. This legislation will help save lives and prevent senseless tragedies."

A vast majority of readers' comments on The New York Times called the bill a bad idea. A reader by the name Angie, who lives in the Memphis metro area with two school children in school, said she was "furious" over the passage of the bill.

"They really think that a teacher, regardless of how much training they have, would be able to switch from 'teacher-mode' to Terminator if something happens?" she asked. "No, what is more likely is that there would be more instances of teacher/student confrontations or gun accidents."

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