Nashville/ Politics & Govt
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Published on April 23, 2024
Bill Empowering Teachers with Guns Nears Governor's Decision Amid Fierce DebateLynn Freeny, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tennessee legislature has passed a contentious bill green-lighting teachers to carry firearms in schools, a move that has stirred intense debate and emotions across the state. Governor Bill Lee now faces the decision to sign the bill into law, which has been a polarizing issue among parents, teachers, students, and law enforcement.

If enacted, the bill would allow one school employee per every 75 students to be armed on campus. This calculation implies that, for a school harboring 1,050 students, up to 14 personnel could be legally equipped with concealed firearms, a measure detailed in a report by FOX13 Memphis. Advocates of the bill champion it as a necessary step to ensure school safety, hoping to create a deterrent effect against potential threats. Nonetheless, controversy persists over the appropriateness of guns in educational settings and the potential risks involved.

Emotions ran high as the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ryan Williams, was debated for over two hours on the floor. Lawmakers on both sides presented their cases before the measure passed with a vote of 68-28-2, as reported by WKRN. In the wake of the approval, dissent echoed through the halls of the legislature with spectators in the gallery chanting "Blood on your hands!" and "Vote them out!", prompting House Speaker Cameron Sexton to have them, including members of the press, removed.

Under this bill, teachers willing to carry guns would be required to submit to a background check, pass a psychological evaluation, complete 40 hours of firearms training, and submit their fingerprints. However, a psychological evaluation had previously been a stumbling block for educators desiring to go armed, as Rep. Williams noted in an interview with NewsChannel 5. The rigorous process reflects lawmakers' intent to strictly vet those who will eventually carry firearms in schools.

The bill's journey to the governor's desk has not been without its hurdles. Last year's legislative session saw the bill placed on hold in the aftermath of The Covenant School shooting, which tragically claimed multiple lives. Williams told NewsChannel 5, "It's not about an SRO or faculty member. It's to create a deterrent. Because we all know the deterrent is the greatest value we can add at this point." The renewed push coincides with the one-year anniversary of the shooting, bringing the debate about firearms in schools back into the national conversation.

The governor now has up to ten days to sign the bill, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto it. Considering the supermajority backing the bill has in the legislature, it is rare for a Tennessee governor to wield veto power under such circumstances, pointed out by NewsChannel 5. As the state waits, the tug-of-war over gun rights and school safety continues to bewilder and divide communities in Tennessee and beyond.