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A year after the deadly Nashville school shooting, the Tennessee Senate is advancing a bill to arm teachers

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Tennessee advanced a proposal Tuesday that would allow some teachers to carry handguns on public school campuses. The move would be one of the largest expansions of gun access in the state since a deadly shooting at a private elementary school last year.

The proposal was cleared in the Republican Party-controlled chamber amid emotional chants and screams from protesters against the bill. Many were eventually ordered to leave the Senate galleries.

After a 26-5 vote in the Senate, the proposal is now ready for a vote in the House of Representatives. The bill would prohibit disclosure of which employees carry guns beyond school administrators and police, including to parents of students and even other teachers. A superintendent, a school district and a law enforcement agency would have to agree to allow staff to carry weapons.

“I'm upset. My child is at risk because of this bill,” Democratic state Sen. London Lamar said while holding her 8-month-old son. “This bill is dangerous and the teachers don't want it. Nobody wants it.”

Senate Speaker Randy McNally, a Republican, cleared the galleries after many protesters refused to remain quiet despite him repeatedly condemning them for disruption. In the nearly 15 minutes it took to remove the audience and continue the debate, they continued to chant: “Vote her out,” “No more silence, end gun violence,” and “Kill the bill, not the children.”

The heated debate comes about a year after a gunman opened fire indiscriminately at Covenant School – a Christian institution in Nashville – last March, killing three children and three adults before he was fatally shot by police. Despite extensive, coordinated efforts after the shooting to persuade Tennessee's Republican-dominated House of Representatives to adopt comprehensive gun control measures, lawmakers have largely resisted such calls. They rejected proposals on the issue from Democrats — and even one from the Republican governor — during the regular annual meeting and a special session.

Only a handful of GOP supporters spoke in favor of the bill, emphasizing that teachers would not be required to be armed or use their weapons in active shooter situations. They argued that this could be particularly helpful in rural counties with limited law enforcement resources.

“It's time we get to the facts of the bill, that we're not trying to shoot a student, we're trying to protect a student from an active shooter whose sole purpose is to get into this school and kill people “Republican Senator Ken Yager said.

A worker who wishes to carry a handgun must have a handgun carry permit, have written authorization from both the school superintendent and local law enforcement, pass a background check, and complete 40 hours of handgun training.

“We send teachers to learn how to handle a combat situation that experienced law enforcement has difficulty understanding,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro. “We allow people to do that with a week’s worth of training,” he said.

Several parents of Covenant School students watched as they opposed the bill.

“It's so extremely disappointing, especially as a mother,” said Mary Joyce, one of the Covenant mothers. “We are very disappointed with how things went today and we can definitely do a lot better.”

Republicans in Tennessee have pushed to loosen gun laws over the years, including passing permits to carry handguns in 2021.

Most recently, House Republicans advanced a proposal out of committee that would expand the state's unlicensed carry law to include long guns.

The original law allowed residents 21 and older to carry handguns in public without a permit. But two years later, in the midst of ongoing litigation, Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti struck a deal that allowed 18- to 20-year-olds to carry handguns in public. The bill passed Monday is slowly making its way through the House of Representatives but still needs to be approved by the House and Senate.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Tennessee passed a law last year that strengthens protections against lawsuits against gun and ammunition dealers, manufacturers and sellers. This year, they are awaiting the governor's decision on a bill that would allow private schools with preschool classes to have guns on campus. Private schools without preschool can already decide whether weapons are allowed on their premises.

Separately, Senate Republicans on Tuesday proposed an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution's “right to keep, bear, and bear Arms” that would expand the right beyond defense and remove a section that gives lawmakers the ability there is “to regulate the carrying of weapons with a view to…”. Crime prevention.” If approved, it wouldn't be on the ballot until 2026.