GOP-led Tennessee Senate approves bill allowing CONCEALED CARRY for teachers on school grounds
04/16/2024 // Ava Grace // Views

The Republican-led Tennessee Senate has approved a bill permitting teachers and staff members at K-12 public schools to carry concealed handguns on school grounds.

According to The Tennessean, Senate Bill (SB) 1235 was approved by the Volunteer State's upper legislature in a 26-5 vote. This bolsters an existing law in the state that allows school resource officers to carry firearms on campus. However, these resource officers are assigned to schools by virtue of an agreement between local school districts (SDs) and law enforcement.

But SB 1235 does not automatically permit school teachers and staffers to carry guns if enacted. Anyone who wants to avail of the measure must first get an enhanced handgun carry permit. They would also need to complete a background check and a psychiatric evaluation.

The SD's director of schools, the school principal and the chief of the local law enforcement agency that has oversight of the SD must sign off on a staff member's authority to carry a concealed handgun. Moreover, the teacher or staff member must complete a total of 80 hours – 40 hours for basic training for school policing and another 40 hours of Peace Officer's Standards and Training commission-approved training that is specific to school policing – of annual training with law enforcement before they are allowed to carry firearms.

State Sen. Paul Bailey, a Republican and the sponsor of SB 1235, said a school principal could make a blanker decision not to participate. He added that the principal can also inform a director of schools that they don't intend to permit any of their teachers to carry.

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But the bill itself does not directly outline this opt-out mechanism that Bailey referred to. Rather, it directs school administrators to consider each certification individually.

House Bill (HB) 1202, SB 1235's companion bill, technically only needs a final vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives after passing through the chamber's various committees last year. HB 1202 is currently being "held on the desk," which means that it is in a holding pattern unless a state representative moves to remove it from the table.

SB 1235 met with protests

If SB 1235 becomes law, the Volunteer State would join more than 30 others that allow school personnel or teachers to carry a firearm. It would also block the names of employees who are armed with guns to parents of students and other teachers. (Related: Maine mass shooting triggers spike in gun purchases.)

The Tennessee Senate's approval of SB 1235 happened about a year after the March 2023 mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville. The incident at the private Christian school left three children and three adult staff members dead. Audrey Elizabeth Hale, a woman identifying as a man and the shooter involved in the incident, died at the hands of law enforcement on the same day.

Republicans have argued that SB 1235 is a necessity for schools, more so for those who have been able to hire a school resource officer. It also benefits more rural schools where law enforcement response might be delayed during a security crisis, they added.

But the bill has faced criticisms from both Democrats and gun control groups. In fact, protesters were present in the gallery on the day SB 1235 was approved in the state senate. Around 200 demonstrators voiced their opposition, holding signs with anti-gun rights slogans and hissing in dissent.

After repeated warnings about disruptions, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally – also the speaker of the Tennessee Senate – called for state troopers to clear the gallery. Around 25 people initially refused to leave, drawing the attention of several troopers. Eventually, the troopers told those who remained they would be arrested if they did not leave.

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