While most of the recent headlines about the Tennessee House of Representatives have revolved around the expulsion of two Democratic lawmakers who helped lead a protest for more gun control from the House floor, the political drama isn’t stopping the Republican majority from moving ahead with a vote to allow school staff to be armed on K-12 campuses.
HB 1202 could be considered as early as this Thursday by House members after clearing the Education Administration Committee last week, setting up another high-profile political fight with the Democratic minority on gun control and school safety. In fact, the bill could be one of the first measures brought to the House floor after the two lawmakers who were expelled return to the state capitol this week.
Nashville’s Metro Council could return Justin Jones to the Legislature immediately when it votes to fill the vacant position on an interim basis.
Jones and another Black lawmaker were expelled by the Republican supermajority for their role in a gun-control protest on the House floor in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Nashville.
The other expelled representative, Justin Pearson, could be reappointed Wednesday at a meeting of the Shelby County Commission in his district.
The expulsions on Thursday made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy and propelled the ousted lawmakers into the national spotlight.
Members of the Nashville council have said publicly that they want to send Jones back to the Capitol. The vote will happen as state lawmakers hold their first floor sessions since the expulsion votes.
As egregiously unprofessional as Jones and Pearson were in their behavior, their expulsion only elevated their profiles and platform going forward. I think it was a political miscalculation for the GOP majority to expel the legislators rather than censure them, but what’s done is done… or rather, soon to be undone. What’s most important now is that lawmakers don’t get cold feet about a bill that would greatly enhance school safety and security, particularly in smaller districts that may not have the money for dedicated school resources officers on campus.
According to the text of the bill, in order to carry, the employee must have a valid handgun carry permit, have authorization from their local law enforcement agency and complete 40 hours of “basic training in school policing” once they receive the authorization. They must also complete a minimum of 40 hours of POST commission-approved training annually in order to continue carrying the weapon on school grounds.
All training, weapon and ammunition costs must also be borne by the person wanting to carry, not the school or school district, the bill states.
Further, any employee who chooses to carry would be prohibited from carrying the firearm openly or “in any other manner in which the handgun is visible to ordinary observation.” Employees would also be barred from carrying their handgun at stadiums, gymnasiums, or auditoriums when school-sponsored events are in progress, in disciplinary meetings, tenure issue meetings, hospitals, clinics or offices where medical or mental health services are the primary services provided, or any location where state or federal law and posting provisions in state law prohibits the carrying of firearms on that property.
In addition to allowing employees to carry, the bill also allows third parties “assigned to a school in accordance with a memorandum of understanding” between law enforcement and the school district, such as hired security, to carry on school grounds.
Is this a panacea that will forevermore end the threat of an active shooter on a school campus? Nope. Then again, I’m not aware of any lawmaker who’s making that claim. What HB 1202 would do is ensure that school districts that want this extra layer of security would be able to do. There would undoubtably be some districts that decide not to adopt an armed school staff policy, which is still their choice, but there are likely dozens of others that would avail themselves of the opportunity if they could.
Among the deferred bills are several opposed by gun control advocates, as well as some legislation they support.
One bill would arm public school teachers and staff with a concealed handgun if they are willing, have a state-issued permit, and complete firearms training. Staff at Tennessee’s private schools already have that option if their administrators approve.
Gun control advocates support a so-called safe storage bill requiring people to secure any weapons they leave in vehicles and boats as a way to keep them from falling into the hands of criminals. That measure was deferred, too.
I’d argue that HB 1202 is a school safety bill, not a “gun” bill as traditionally thought of, and hopefully Tennessee House members will make that case to their Senate counterparts if the bill is approved this week. Yes, gun control advocates oppose it and I’m sure they’d rally their side to try to disrupt committee hearings or a floor vote, but that’s not a very good reason for inaction that keeps school districts from doing all they can to protect the students in their care. This is a life-saving bill, and it shouldn’t die on the vine because some lawmakers get cold feet or want gun control to disappear from the news cycle.