Senate clears tribune, passes bill to arm Tennessee teachers • Tennessee Lookout


Just minutes after clearing the gallery of opponents of pro-gun legislation, the Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would allow teachers to go to school armed.

The law's passage came a little more than a year after six people, including three 9-year-olds, were killed in a mass shooting at Covenant School, a private Christian institution in Nashville's Green Hills neighborhood.

The mass shooting in late March 2023 sparked calls for gun control and even a measure to close children's autopsy files. But Covenant parents rejected the measure to allow teachers armed. This includes a requirement that they complete 40 hours of training annually, psychological evaluations, background checks and approval from local law enforcement and school officials.

The House version awaits action after moving through committees in April 2023.

Before Colleen Weiss is expelled from the public gallery, she watches tearfully as Tennessee senators debate a measure to arm school teachers. (Photo: John Partipilo)

About 45 minutes before the Senate vote, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally cleared the gallery as the audience hissed, snapped their fingers and then began roaring.

Most Covenant parents in the gallery decided to leave after the riot in response to comments from Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari of Memphis, who pointed out: “A teacher isn't allowed to put a rainbow flag on her desk, but she is allowed to.” “carry a weapon.” She was referring to a bill passed by the House of Representatives to restrict flags in schools.

The Covenant parents were so shaken by the eviction of the gallery that they needed time to sort out their emotions afterwards.

“As mothers, we are very disappointed with how things turned out today and we can definitely do a lot better,” said Covenant mother Mary Joyce.

Still, Covenant parent Melissa Alexander said the group continues to have “productive conversations” with lawmakers to improve student safety. She declined to say what measures the group supports.

“All we can do is continue to show up and tell our stories,” Alexander said, noting that she believes her child was spared in last year's shooting because the teacher made sure the students were quiet.

State police try to clear spectators from a Senate gallery after protests during debate over a measure to arm school teachers (Photo: John Partipilo)

As debate resumed in the Senate, Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, chided her Republican colleagues while holding her baby.

“As a new mother, it's really hard to stand here and talk about a law that endangers my son's life,” Lamar said.

She noted that some senators had joked as the soldiers cleared the gallery in what should have been a grim situation.

Senators rejected amendments that would have banned arming unlicensed staff in schools and required de-escalation training.

Democrats argued that the bill could create a situation in which a teacher could shoot a student, whether accidentally or intentionally, to break up an argument.

Criticism also focused on provisions in the bill intended to prevent parents from learning whether their child's teacher carried a gun. Additionally, sheriff's offices and school districts would be immune from lawsuits in the event of teacher-related shootings.

“As a parent, my concern is: I want my child's teacher to stay with the children and not engage in a counteroffensive,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, said during the debate.

Michele Flynn (left) and Becca Dryden raise their fists in protest after being ejected from the Senate gallery during debate on a bill to arm school teachers (Photo: John Partipilo)

Senator Paul Bailey, the bill's sponsor, countered that confidentiality would ensure that someone who wants to commit a school shooting does not know whether the school staff they encounter is armed. He also said the training requirements were intended to prevent accidental shootings.

Sen. Ken Yager, a Republican from Kingston who sponsored the bill, also argued that the measure was necessary in rural areas where counties might have as few as two serving deputies.

“We’re not trying to shoot a student, we’re trying to protect them from an active shooter,” Yager said.