Legislation drafted by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration that would give local boards of education the authority to allow certain teachers to carry firearms into the classroom heads to his desk for his signature.
House Bill 6 passed the Senate 27-6 on Thursday, with Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey joining Democrats in voting no.
Kelsey is chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, where the “comprehensive” amendment that rewrote the bill was drafted. The House signed off on the new version later in the day.
The legislation would allows teachers or staff members who meet four criteria to carry a firearm of any kind onto a school campus – provided the person receives written authorization from the director of schools and the school’s principal. (See criteria list below.)
Once the person has met all of the requirements and receives permission, the director of schools has 10 days to notify the head of the appropriate local law enforcement agency information about this individual. These are the only individuals who will know which teachers or staff members are carrying, an issue with critics of the bill.
“I truly believe your constituents who have children in school would like to know if the teacher has a gun in the classroom,” said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.
Republican Sen. Mark Green, who came up with the amendment in committee, disagreed.
“A person who is intent on assaulting a school, one of the best pieces of information that person could have is where guns are in the school and where they’re located,” said the senator from Clarksville. “Keeping that information private protects the students in that school.”
However, each year the director of schools will be required to submit a report to the two chambers’ chief clerks a report containing just the number of schools and persons participating.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, questioned whether or not the amendment placed any restrictions on the type of guns a school employee may legally carry.
“No, it did not. It simply mentions firearms,” Kelsey said.
“So a teacher could carry an AK-47 or an Uzi fully automatic if they so chose?” Campfield asked.
“Yes, the language drafted by the administration would allow a teacher to carry an AK-47 in the school,” the Germantown senator replied.
“Far be it from me to stand in the way of the governor,” Campfield said.
Campfield, who ended up voting for the bill, also noted that currently there are currently only about 100 teachers throughout the state who might meet the qualifications to carry a gun to school.
“I support the concept of this, but I really think it’s so watered down and weak, it really doesn’t do any of the goals that we all have,” he said. “And actually by shutting off all information to find out if its successful or not, we’ve neutered it about as much as it can be neutered.”
In his closing remarks, Kelsey said, “You’re not really providing true safety to anybody with this type of approach that’s half-hearted at best. If we’re truly are concerned about safety in our schools, then we’re going to have to suck it up and pay for it.”
Just before the vote, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, who sponsored the legislation in the upper chamber, noted that the amended bill “represents the consensus language from the governor, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce and Insurance, the Sheriff’s Association, the school boards and the Chiefs of Police. Now if that many people can agree on this, it can’t be all bad.”