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Tempers flare as Tennessee Senate passes measure allowing teachers to conceal carry firearms on campus

Covenant Moms sit in the Senate gallery during a hearing on legislation that allows teachers to carry firearms on campus.
Blaise Gainey
Covenant Moms sit in the Senate gallery during a hearing on legislation that allows teachers to carry firearms on campus.

The Tennessee Senate began session Tuesday afternoon with a full gallery of parents and students ready to make their voices heard in dissent of a bill to arm teachers.

As debate began on SB 1325 guests in the gallery began to snap and cheer when they agreed with points made by Democratic legislators. The main one: that more guns is not the answer.

Tempers flare

Before session started, Senate Speaker Randy McNally gave a warning that people could be removed from the gallery for being loud. However, during debate on the bill after several warnings, they continued.

During Sen. Raumesh Akbari’s comments she said, “A teacher is not allowed to put a rainbow flag on her desk, but she’s allowed to carry a gun in this state.” That statement sent the crowd into another outburst, which was the final straw for McNally. He ordered officers to show everybody the door. Doing so took roughly 20 minutes, a time filled with chants of “Shame on you!” and “Kill the bill, not the kids!” by the crowd.

Part of the reason it took so long to empty the crowd is because McNally had allowed moms of Covenant school students — whoo remained quiet the entire session — to stay. Some people in the crowd saw that and refused to leave unless everyone, including the moms, were excused.

Mary Joyce, a mother who’s child was at Covenant school the day of the shooting, said they chose to leave in unison with the group.

“[McNally] agreed to let us stay, which in the end just felt kind of gross because it’s like, well, we’re coloring within the lines of what they want us to do,” said Joyce.

Joyce told WPLN that with the crowd clear, she expected the Senate to stay on course and pass the bill. And her prediction played out when the Senate voted 26-5 to send the bill to the House for final approval.

Details on the bill

The House version is already on the floor and can be taken up at any moment this week. If passed, it’ll head to Gov. Bill Lee for his approval.

The measure has several requirements a public school teacher or staff member must meet before carrying a firearm on campus.

They would first have to get approval from the principal, the district superintendent and a local law enforcement agency. Once they get those, they’d have to go through 40 hours of training, be certified by a Tennessee licensed healthcare provider who is qualified in the psychiatric or psychological field, submit fingerprints to the local law enforcement agency, and possess a handgun permit.

If the bill is passed and signed into law, Tennessee would join a majority of states (more than 30) that allow teachers to carry firearms on campus.

Blaise Gainey is a Political Reporter for WPLN News. He is the youngest of three siblings, husband and father of two. He previously held the State Government Reporter position for WFSU News in Tallahassee. He is from Apopka, Fla., and graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He previously worked for The Florida Channel and WTXL-TV. He is excited to move to another capital and report on state government. In his spare time, he enjoys watching sports, outdoor activities and enjoying family time.
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