While anti-gun activists and Democrats in the state legislature are demanding a gun control response to the murders of three students and three staff members at Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee wants to take a different approach to protecting kids on campus; ensuring that there is an armed response the next time someone tries to shoot their way into a school and slaughter those innocent lives inside.
In an interview with the Tennessean newspaper, Lee expounded on his plan to put school resource officers inside every public school in the state, while helping private schools pay for armed guards.
“I think we all understand when people are fearful, when people are angry, when people lash out. I have those same emotions myself, we all do,” Lee told The Tennessean. “We have an obligation, I have an obligation, to do what I can and work together with leaders across this community to address people’s concerns and to protect our kids in whatever way we can.”
The governor’s plan would expand a proposal to place an armed guard, otherwise known as a school resource officer, at every public school in Tennessee and offer state funding for private schools to hire an armed guard.
Under this proposal, which would have to be approved by the state legislature, private schools would be required to hire guards with the same level of training as public school requirements. However, private schools will not be forced to take advantage of the program.
Lee issued a similar executive order last year and pushed a new school safety plan in his state of the state address earlier this year. State lawmakers in recent weeks considered the new proposal, which includes penalties for public schools found with security violations.
The governor’s initial budget proposal this year included $20 million for school building security upgrades. He also plans to propose expanding this fund with additional money for private schools.
In the interview, Lee was noncommittal about putting a “red flag” law in place, though he did say that “[m]ost practical, thoughtful people believe that individuals who are a threat to themselves or to others shouldn’t have access to weapons,” adding “In my view, that’s a practical, thoughtful approach.”
That could be seen as an endorsement of sorts for an Extreme Risk Protection Order, but Lee seems to be more focused on improving access to mental health than pushing for a gun seizure regime. And just like every other state in the nation, Tennessee already provides a mechanism in which those found to pose a danger to themselves or others can be prohibited from possessing a firearm through an adjudication process; a step that apparently was never taken when it came to the Covenant School murderer.
Putting school resource officers in place on every campus would be a good step, though it might strain the budgets of smaller, more rural districts. Tennessee lawmakers have also introduced a bill that would expand the option for armed school staff to every school district in the state, though it faces an uncertain future at the moment.
In 2016, a state law allowed school districts in two Tennessee counties to choose whether teachers should carry concealed guns at school. Neither county armed employees. But a new bill would expand that option to school districts across the state.
When it passed, the law applied to Pickett County and Wayne County. It allowed the local boards of education to vote on whether the director of schools should be allowed to authorize specific school employees to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.
According to the director of Pickett County Schools, their district wasn’t interested in arming school employees. But Marlon Davis, the director of Wayne County Schools, said his district pursued the option to supplement school security.
At the time, he said there was a lack of funding for school resource officers, or SROs, in the district. In the end, it was logistical complications with training and insurance that prevented Wayne County Schools from authorizing concealed carry.
Now, several years later, neither district is eligible anymore, since they’re no longer among Tennessee’s “distressed” counties. But HB0041 would extend the option to any board of education in the state. The bill currently has no sponsor in the Senate, which it would need in order to pass. The office of House sponsor Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, declined WPLN’s interview request.
There have been reports that Covenant School had at least one staff member who was armed on a regular basis, though Nashville police haven’t confirmed if that was the case or if any of the three adults who were killed by the attacker had a gun themselves. What we do know is that the sooner an armed response is on the scene of an active shooter incident, the faster that incident can come to a halt; at least if those who are armed don’t wait for an hour or more before engaging the attacker. Lee’s proposal would go a long way towards improving student safety, and would be of far more benefit to students and staff alike than banning so-called assault weapons or imposing a red flag regime in the state.