Governor issues school safety order but refuses gun regulations

By: - June 6, 2022 12:07 pm
Gov. Bill Lee signs an executive order on June 6 that reinforces existing school safety guidelines. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

Gov. Bill Lee signs an executive order on June 6 that reinforces existing school safety guidelines. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

Despite a call by the Chattanooga mayor for new gun laws amid shootings there, Gov. Bill Lee said Monday he will not seek weapons regulations.

As he issued an executive order on school safety, the governor admitted gun violence is a “serious problem” nationally with 16 more dead in eight states in recent days. Three were killed and 14 injured early Sunday near a Chattanooga nightclub.

Lee also acknowledged debate about red flag laws and waiting period requirements is taking place nationally in the wake of mass shootings at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and a Buffalo, New York grocery store.

Yet, he is refusing to consider tightening state laws or dropping the permit-less carry measure he brought in 2021. Lee isn’t planning a move to arm teachers either. 

"Criminals don't follow laws, criminals break laws . . . We can’t control what they do, but we can control what we can control," said Gov. Bill Lee on Monday. (Photo: John Partipilo)
“Criminals don’t follow laws, criminals break laws . . . We can’t control what they do, but we can control what we can control,” said Gov. Bill Lee on Monday. (Photo: John Partipilo)

“We’re not looking at gun restriction laws in my administration right now,” Lee said in a press conference at the State Capitol. “… Criminals don’t follow laws, criminals break laws. Whether they are a gun law or drug law, criminals break laws. … We can’t control what they do, but we can control what we can control.”

Lee’s stance runs counter to that of Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly, a Republican who is urging Congress to pass “common-sense” regulations after the Sunday shooting.

“That doesn’t mean taking guns away from responsible gun owners,” Kelly said Sunday, according to a Times Free Press article. But he pointed out it does include mandatory background checks and a prohibition on high-capacity magazines.

Military-type weapons with large magazines have come under fire recently. The 18-year-old who killed 19 young students and two teachers in Texas reportedly used an AR-15-type weapon he had just bought.

Democrats castigated Lee’s executive order Monday as worthless.

“Gov. Bill Lee posed with commissioners today in announcing a do-nothing executive order on school security. Then he said he’s not lifting a finger to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” Senate Democrats said on Twitter.

State Rep. Vincent Dixie called the governor’s steps “an exercise in nothingness” and a “slap in the face” to gun violence victims.

Dixie said last week he plans to introduce legislation in 2023 creating a handgun registry in Tennessee similar to a program in North Carolina, where people who buy pistols are required to report the purchase to their sheriff’s office if they don’t hold a state-issued handgun permit. 

Dixie noted Monday his North Nashville district has a problem with illegal handguns, and he believes people should be issued a handgun card that they would have to present when they buy ammunition.

Lee said, however, his administration is not discussing enactment of new gun laws or registries. Instead, he wants more schools to take advantage of a grant program to hire school resource officers.

The governor signed an executive order for school safety, mainly bolstering current laws, including encouraging parents to use a SafeTN app, directing state agencies to give extra guidance for school security assessments and safety plans that will involve periodic audits, and updating the state’s school safety plan for local districts.

Gov. Bill Lee posed with commissioners today in announcing a do-nothing executive order on school security. Then he said he’s not lifting a finger to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

– Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus

The governor’s administration set up a school resource officer grant program in 2019 that led to placing 213 officers in public schools. A $40 million school safety grant fund was used to hire those officers and to increase safety measures and violence intervention programs in schools statewide.

Dixie, though, said putting more SROs into schools creates a “prison” atmosphere that won’t solve the problem. He also contended the governor’s order makes him look “weak” on gun violence. 

As part of the governor’s order, the Department of Commerce & Insurance will evaluate and assess law enforcement training standards and review the use of armed security guards in non-public schools, as well as report to the governor on the need for active-shooter training for armed guards.

Among other steps the governor’s administration has taken, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security set up a free app called SafeTN to allow anonymous reporting for students, faculty, parents and the public for tips to law enforcement. In addition, mental health resources have been expanded through a $250 million investment in the Mental Health Trust Fund and the Tennessee Mental Health Crisis Hotline, 855-274-7471.



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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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