Editor’s column: Fewer gun laws and more book bans is no way to help kids

February 7, 2022 6:00 am
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“You don’t know how it feels—in here,” an elementary school librarian told me recently, placing her hands over her midsection for emphasis. “You don’t know how it feels to have to conduct active shooter drills with children.” 

My librarian friend continued, telling me that she can’t bring herself to tell the kids she shepherds into a dark closet that they are practicing for what happens in the event someone with a gun comes to school and starts shooting. 

“Some of the teachers tell them, but I can’t: I just tell them we are going to play a game being quiet,” she said. She pointed out her school library, surrounded by windows, is located at the front of the school. “I’m in a fish bowl. We’d be a target in a shooting. I can’t do this anymore.” 

The librarian, still well under the age of 60, has spent her career in elementary education but will retire at the end of this school year. Teaching in a pandemic, practicing active shooter drills — that’s hard enough, but now she worries she may become a target of another sort, as movements by conservative groups to restrict books gain traction across Tennessee. 

Last week while talking to reporters, House Majority Leader William Lamberth said, of restricting kids’ access to certain books, that the “nightmare” situation is for a third grader to take home a naughty book that, to the consternation of Mom and Dad teaches Junior curse words. 

I’d be shocked to find there’s a kid alive who hasn’t cracked open their new dictionary to start looking up words like ‘penis.’ My friends with elementary-age kids hooted with laughter when I told them about the “nightmare” scenario. 

Most kids, they universally said, learn curse words the old-fashioned way: on the playground from peers or even from their own parents. 

Fewer books, more guns: The nightmare scenario isn’t your kid bringing the wrong book home. The nightmare scenario is that your kid doesn’t come home at all.

And the internet makes every sort of information imaginable available, and I mean every sort, from the grossest pornography to explicit videos of medical procedures. Most households in America have access to the internet and cell phones and despite parents’ best efforts, I guarantee kids can find a way to look up content not parentally approved, to say nothing about the offering in video games commonly played. 

I understand the desire to let children be children as long as possible, which is why I wonder why Tennessee Republicans, so intent on protecting our kids from words in books that might harm them, are so eager to continue loosening gun laws. 

This year, for instance, we have what I call the “Barney Fife bill.” House Bill 2554 expands the definition of ‘law enforcement officer’ to include a person with an enhanced gun carry permit. Here’s what it takes to get an enhanced carry permit: $100 vs. the $65 fee for a concealed carry permit and eight hours of training, or proof the user has had four hours of military arms training. 

One day of training and an extra $35. I feel better already. 

Another bill on the current legislative agenda, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, eliminates the “prohibitions a local government can place on possession of a handgun in certain locations such as libraries, child care agencies, buildings containing law enforcement agencies, and facilities that administer a Head Start program.” 

That’s a bill that gets rid of prohibitions on carrying a gun into a library at the same time lawmakers are promoting legislation that “prohibits local education agencies from making obscene or pornographic materials harmful to minors available in school libraries controlled by the LEA or public schools. 

I can’t wrap my mind around how lawmakers think guns in child care agencies and libraries are okay, but that graphic novels about the Holocaust or, God forbid, “To Kill a Mockingbird” aren’t. 

Fewer books, more guns: The nightmare scenario isn’t your kid bringing the wrong book home. The nightmare scenario is that your kid doesn’t come home at all.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece identified the sponsor of HB 2521 that would permit guns in libraries to Speaker Cameron Sexton instead of the correct sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sexton.)

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

J. Holly McCall
J. Holly McCall

Holly McCall has been a fixture in Tennessee media and politics for decades. She covered city hall for papers in Columbus, Ohio and Joplin, Missouri before returning to Tennessee with the Nashville Business Journal. Holly brings a deep wealth of knowledge about Tennessee’s political processes and players and likes nothing better than getting into the weeds of how political deals are made.