Tennessee House Passes Bill Allowing Trained Teachers to Carry Guns

Tennessee House Republicans approved legislation on Tuesday permitting certain trained teachers and school staff to carry handguns, defying calls from Democrats, students, and gun-reform advocates to reject the bill.

Following the bill’s passage, dozens of protesters in the galleries chanted “Blood on your hands,” prompting House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, to instruct state troopers to clear the galleries. Chaos ensued on the House floor as protesters continued chanting and expressing discontent.

The bill is expected to become law within weeks, as Gov. Bill Lee can either sign it into law or allow it to become law without his signature. Notably, Lee has never vetoed a bill during his tenure.

Under the legislation, armed teachers will undergo training and be permitted to carry handguns in classrooms and most campus settings without notifying parents or most colleagues.

Democrats made several unsuccessful attempts to amend the bill, including proposals to require handguns to be locked up except during security breaches and to inform parents about guns on campus.

House Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, expressed grave concerns about the bill, calling it a “disaster and tragedy waiting to happen” if personal responsibility measures are not ensured.

Proponents of the bill argue that trained staff can enhance school security, particularly in rural areas with limited law enforcement resources. Last year, the General Assembly funded armed school resource officer positions in all Tennessee schools, but staffing challenges persist, with nearly 600 schools lacking a designated officer.

Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, emphasized the permissive nature of the bill, stressing that schools are not mandated to allow guns on campus but must consider individual requests.

The bill, designated HB 1202/SB 1321, faced significant opposition in the Senate earlier this month, with parents of school shooting survivors, gun-reform advocates, and students lobbying against it. A Covenant School mom delivered a letter to the House with over 5,300 signatures urging lawmakers to reject the bill.

The bill’s opponents, including teacher and parent Lauren Shipman-Dorrance, expressed frustration over lawmakers’ handling of the debate and emphasized concerns about increased risks associated with firearms in schools.

In response to vocal protests during the House debate, Speaker Sexton warned of potential gallery clearance, later directing troopers to remove dissenting individuals from the ticketed gallery.

Shipman-Dorrance highlighted the broader implications of the bill, stating, “I’ve been teaching a long time. I’ve worked in a lot of schools where violence is a thing, even if a gun isn’t involved. And that will happen more if they pass this.”

The legislation’s passage underscored deep divisions and impassioned sentiments surrounding school safety and gun policies within the Tennessee legislature.

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