Tennessee GOP Shuts Down Debate, Passes Bill Allowing Handguns for Teachers

“Instead of protecting kids,” said one Democratic lawmaker, “they’ve protected guns again.”

By Julia Conley. Published 4-24-2024 by Common Dreams

Protesters rally for gun reform at Tennessee state capitol in March 2023 Screenshot: MSNBC

A Democratic leader in the Tennessee House on Tuesday warned that a bill pushed through by Republicans to permit teachers to carry concealed handguns was “nothing but a bad disaster and tragedy waiting to happen,” after the GOP cut off a debate and refused to include amendments that aimed to add safety measures to the legislation.

House Bill 1202 passed in a 68-28 vote, and Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who has never vetoed legislation, is expected to sign it, clearing the way for the state to require school districts to allow teachers to carry firearms without notifying students’ parents.

According to The Tennessean, the legislation does not allow schools or school districts to opt out of the program and requires administrators “to consider every individual who wants to carry.”

The legislation was passed just over a year after a shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville killed six people, including three children.

“Our children’s lives are at stake,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons (D-55).

After last year’s shooting, the Tennessee Legislature garnered national attention when Republicans voted to expel expel state Reps. Justin Jones (D-52) and Justin Pearson (D-86) for joining outraged students in a chant for gun control during a protest. Jones and Pearson were soon reinstated.

Following Tuesday’s vote on arming teachers, Republicans voted to bar Jones from speaking in House proceedings for two days after he was accused of committing three rules violations, including recording on the chamber’s floor—something a GOP member was also accused of doing.

Jones applauded Tennessee residents for speaking out against H.B. 1202 in the House chamber.

“Despite my Republican colleagues’ best effort, the power of the people cannot and will not be stopped,” said the lawmaker.

The GOP ended the debate over the legislation after one teacher, Lauren Shipman-Dorrance, cried out from the viewing section. Shipman-Dorrance was removed by state troopers on orders from House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-25).

After the bill passed overwhelmingly—despite four Republicans who joined the Democrats and three who abstained—the remaining protesters chanted, “Blood on your hands!” before the GOP ordered state troopers to remove them.

Sarah Shoop Neumann, whose children attend Covenant Day School, delivered a letter with more than 5,300 signatures to the House on Monday demanding that lawmakers defeat the bill and warning that the legislation “ignores research that shows the presence of a gun increases the risks posed to children.”

Shoop Neumann told The Tennessean that the bill’s passage was “disgraceful.”

“We worked with the Senate and representative sponsors of this bill to make it even a little bit safer—anything, really—and I’m utterly disappointed that that was not taken into consideration,” she told the outlet.

Kris Brown, president of gun violence prevention group Brady, pointed out that “multiple teachers were armed at [the Covenant School], yet that was not enough to stop six children and school employees from being murdered.”

“The Tennessee Legislature has just dishonored all who were killed at the Covenant School shooting last year by choosing to promote the proliferation of firearms in classrooms,” said Brown. “H.B. 1202 is especially egregious as it has no safe storage requirements, meaning firearms could potentially fall into a child’s hands.”

“If we want to be free of this uniquely American crisis, we cannot continue to perpetuate the deadly norms that got us here by adding more unsecured firearms in spaces where children should be safe to learn and grow,” she added. “We urge Gov. Lee to veto this bill and ask him to work alongside us, teachers, and gun safety advocates to craft meaningful reforms across the Volunteer State.”

Democrats proposed amendments to require that teachers lock up their handguns and only remove them during a security breach, that teachers be held civilly liable for using their guns, and that schools inform parents if guns are on campus, but the GOP rejected all of the proposals.

“I can assure you these people have never experienced an actual working high school classroom or they wouldn’t be passing this nonsense,” said one Tennessee teacher. “A child will die because of this.”

Pearson said the passage of the bill marked “an awful day for Tennessee, our kids, our teachers, and communities.”

“Instead of protecting kids,” said the lawmaker, “they’ve protected guns again.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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