Tennessee Legislature passes bill to arm teachers despite fierce opposition

The Tennessee state House passed a bill on Tuesday that would allow teachers who are approved to carry firearms to have handguns in the classrooms, despite fierce opposition from parents, educators and Democrats.

The legislation was approved in a 68-28 vote. Four GOP House members and all Democrats opposed the bill, according to The Associated Press.

The bill, previously approved by the state Senate, will now go to Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, for his signature. Lee can veto it, sign it or wait 10 days, after which it would become law.

The legislation would allow some trained teachers and school staff to carry handguns in their classrooms without parents knowing about it. The teacher would first need to get approval from their school’s principal, the head of the appropriate local law enforcement agency and the directors of the school’s designated school district.

Those who would carry handguns would need to go through mental health and criminal background examinations. Additionally, teachers would need to get training in school policing to retain the authorization.

Democrats in the state chambers have been critical of the legislation, arguing it would not deter school shooters and would increase collateral damage or spike insurance costs for school districts where educators would have the weapons. House Democrats tried to amend the legislation at least a dozen times.

The bill cleared the state Senate earlier in April with a 26-5 party-line vote.

State House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) ordered the chamber on Tuesday to be cleared as protesters chanted “Blood on your hands,” according to FOX 17 News. The outlet also shared a video of protesters chanting “Not one more,” following the passage of the legislation.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Republican state Rep. Ryan Williams, said the legislation would play the role of a “deterrent,” but he added the standards need to be “very high” to allow teachers to have guns in Tennessee’s schools, according to FOX 17 News.

State Rep. Justin Pearson (D) said it was an “awful” day for the state and the community.

“The entire gallery has been cleared in our state house after the Republican Party just passed a bill to arm teachers and the People dissented,” Pearson said in a Tuesday post on the social platform X. “This is an awful day for Tennessee, our kids, our teachers, and communities. Instead of protecting kids, they’ve protected guns AGAIN!”

The bill’s passage comes as Republicans in the state have accelerated their push for fewer gun restrictions, particularly after the Covenant School shooting last year in March, where a former student gunned down three adults and three students.

The state passed a law in 2016 that would allow schools in two counties to have guns on campus, but neither Pickett County nor Wayne County decided to take that step, according to WPLN-FM.

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