NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A bill that would allow teachers in Tennessee to carry guns in schools passed through the Education Administration Committee in a 12-6 vote Wednesday.
Lawmakers have tried to pass teacher carry laws before, but they didn’t have all the provisions included in HB 1202.
According to the bill’s language, teachers who decide to carry would have to undergo 40 hours of annual gun training, the same amount the state requires for law enforcement. The training would be at the teacher’s expense.
The educator would also have to receive approval from the school director, pass a mental health evaluation, and pass an FBI background check prior to carrying.
Schools would be allowed to post signage warning visitors that teachers inside the building may be trained and armed, which the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) told lawmakers would be a good deterrent for potential shooters.
In addition, Williams said arming teachers could be a solution for schools struggling to find school resource officers (SROs).
“If you’re from a rural district where resources are limited, you don’t have the ability to provide enough SROs for your community or an SRO at all, this would give you an opportunity to find a different pathway with training, fingerprints, mental evaluation,” Williams said.
Chairman of the Education Administration Committee, Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis), said this is a “challenge” for him as a former teacher.
“When I was a principal and a teacher there, and I heard someone coming in and heard gunfire, what would I do? I would run to them whether I had a firearm or not, because I wouldn’t want to see any of those precious souls harmed, and I’ve often thought, ‘Would I want some kind of defense on me to stop it before the police got there?'” White said.
White ultimately voted against advancing the bill.
While some believe HB 1202 would give teachers another tool to protect their students, others said it would make students less safe, citing an incident at a school in Texas where an educator left their gun in a bathroom for a young student to find.
“Measures that make our schools more like military bases with signs that guns are inside do not create the nurturing and trusting environment that is conducive to learning,” Jason Sparks, a gun violence survivor said. “We know that arming our teachers does not make our students safer. In fact, it increases the chances that a teacher’s gun will fall into the wrong hands.”
“If more guns in more places made us safer, we’d be the safest state on the planet, and we’re not,” Sparks added.
The bill would require teachers to keep the gun on their person at all times, but they would not be allowed to carry during certain school gatherings and meetings, or in auditoriums and stadiums.
The bill passed the committee 12-6 and will be presented to the Calendar and Rules Committee on April 13.