Stockard on the Stump: Push to arm teachers will rise again

Sen. Bailey plans to renew public school district plan

June 9, 2023 6:00 am
(Photo taken Feb. 3, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee, by Karen Pulfer Focht.)

(Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

The Aug. 21 special session to react to shooting deaths at The Covenant School is pressing closer, but some lawmakers are quietly making plans for 2024 to arm school teachers.

Extreme risk protection orders aren’t being given much chance to pass later this summer, even to take guns away from unstable people.

Thus, state Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, is planning to revive a bill allowing public school teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons after completing 40 hours of law enforcement training on school policing, plus a mental evaluation and TBI background check. It sounds like what most people should go through to carry a gun period.

“This measure would create very high standards for teachers and employees to be eligible to carry a concealed weapon, with approval from the district. Carrying a concealed weapon at school is a heavy responsibility,” Bailey says in a statement. 

Bailey contends this option would help rural school districts that don’t have enough money to hire school security, and he notes it could stop school shooters from targeting a school if they know a lot of people there could be armed.

The bill was postponed in the Senate Judiciary Committee until January 2024 when Chairman Todd Gardenhire said no gun-related measures would be considered after The Covenant School shooting.

Several other bills designed to curb mass shootings were put on hold as well, including Sen. Jeff Yarbro/Rep. Caleb Hemmer’s effort to slow down gun thefts from vehicles, which are out of control.

This measure would create very high standards for teachers and employees to be eligible to carry a concealed weapon, with approval from the district. Carrying a concealed weapon at school is a heavy responsibility.

– Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta

The Bailey bill, sponsored in the House by Republican Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville, is believed to be similar to the plan adopted by Florida after the Parkland massacre. It wasn’t popular, though, and most school districts shied away from it. The same is likely to happen here too.

Everytown for Gun Safety says arming teachers won’t improve school safety but could prove more dangerous instead. The group contends students could gain access to a gun when it’s in the classroom, pointing out there are plenty of cases of guns being misplaced in restrooms, locker rooms and at sporting events.

“The notion of a highly trained teacher armed with a gun, able to respond as quickly as trained law enforcement is a myth,” the group says. “Law enforcement officers receive hundreds of hours of training but in states that have laws to arm school personnel, school staff receive much less training.”

Hundreds of people connected with Tennessee’s public schools also sent a letter to the governor and lawmakers urging them to oppose the Bailey/Williams bill earlier this year, arguing that arming teachers and staff complicates law enforcement response and that armed teachers are more likely to shoot a student or bystander or be shot by responding officers than to stop a mass shooter.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, recently obtained an attorney general’s opinion saying it is legal already for private K-12 schools to have armed teachers. Thus, no need for a bill to allow it – well, maybe not.

According to Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti’s analysis, state law generally prohibits the possession of firearms on public and private school campuses, as well as buses, recreation areas and athletic fields.

But some people can be exempt, according to the analysis, including those “permitted to carry a handgun on the property of private K-12 schools” by a state law designed to provide “autonomy” to private schools in setting handgun-carry policies. It applies only to the school where the person is located and a handgun carry policy is in place. 

Zachary won’t respond to phone calls, so we can’t figure out his motive, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sponsor a gun-carry bill for private school teachers.

The bigger question is whether a teacher or staff member carrying a pistol, even with years of training, would be able to fend off someone blasting away with an AR-15.

For transparency’s sake?

Gov. Bill Lee says he authorized a high-powered Nashville law firm to handle the state’s public records challenge in the Scotty Campbell harassment case because the situation warrants “independence.”

“I would suspect that the purpose for that is to provide transparency and clarity to make sure that there’s independent review of that,” Lee says.

Independence from what or for whom?

He recently approved the hiring of Sherrard Roe Voigt Harbison under terms set by Attorney General Skrmetti at $375 an hour and $100 an hour for non-attorneys. Attorneys Eric Osborne and Alex Carver are handling the challenge brought by suspended attorney Brian Manookian, who is seeking records connected to Campbell’s harassment of a 19-year-old intern.

Manookian says he’s mainly interested in seeing who authorized nearly $9,000 in state funds to move the young woman to another apartment, including $1,000 in cash to cover costs at the downtown apartment she left.

More than likely, the hiring of a private law firm to represent a state public records challenge is being made because the state’s attorneys don’t have the time or expertise to deal with it and they don’t want to throw House Republicans to the dogs. 

The governor appears to be saying he agrees with the AG’s assessment that someone outside state government should be helping House leaders cover their butts. 

If he’s looking for true transparency, though, he would disagree with a policy that thumbs its nose at the state’s public records law, prohibiting the release of any records involving a harassment investigation.

For instance, we have no idea how many complaints have been filed over the last few years or how much they might have cost the state.

On the money question, alone, the state has no good defense for hiding the authorization of spending to deal with sexual harassment, no matter how much is involved. Chancellor Russell Perkins isn’t likely to look at such a cover-up kindly. 

As for “clarity,” the state has been pretty clear it won’t budge on the matter.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton has distanced himself from the details, saying early on he knew little about the harassment case. He also claims not to have authorized the expenditures.

More than likely, the move is being made because the state’s attorneys don’t have the time or expertise to deal with it and they don’t want to throw House Republicans to the dogs. They’re too busy battling businesses over environmental social and governance questions to deal with nit-picky Tennessee questions.

Here’s a thought: Maybe the Legislature gave the Office of Legislative Administration the ability to spend money whenever necessary to slide interns aside. After all, lawmakers are the worst offenders when it comes to harassing women at the Cordell Hull Building and Capitol. They have to do something to cover their tracks.

Farewell to the Beck

State Rep. Bill Beck reminded us how precious we should make each day this week when he died of a heart attack at age 61.

The East Nashville Democrat and attorney presented what many considered the most cogent legal arguments for or against legislation in committees and on the House floor, sometimes managing to turn back even Republican bills.

Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, Metro Councilmember Nancy VanReece, late community leader David McMurry, Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper. (Photo courtesy of Nancy VanReece)
Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, Metro Councilmember Nancy VanReece, late community leader David McMurry, Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville and U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper. (Photo courtesy of Nancy VanReece)

Beck memorably took a shot at one of the Republican bills targeting Metro Nashville this year when he said he wouldn’t do it to someone else’s city and wouldn’t want them to do it to his hometown.

Answering questions about yet another anti-Nashville bill that would have given the state control over Lower Broad bars, Beck said, “Well they’re just trying to capitalize on the recent hate for Nashville.” 

Never at a loss for a quick barb, the gregarious Beck still had many friends on both sides of the aisle.

He had a serious side, too, sponsoring Dallas’ Law in the last session, a measure requiring increased training for security guards after 22-year-old Dallas Barrett died on Lower Broad when security held him down.

Beck lay in state Thursday at the Capitol, as well he should, and services are to be held Saturday at TPAC.

Over the weekend, we should all toast the Beckian One. I know I’ll be lifting a glass of cold beer to him.

Lafferty case suspended

The case of a simple assault charge filed by Rep. Justin Jones against Rep. Justin Lafferty has been “suspended,” according to Metro Nashville Police.

A Metro detective called Jones several times but couldn’t reach him and decided to “suspend” the matter, a police spokeswoman said.

Jones, a Nashville Democrat, filed the charge against Lafferty, a Knoxville Republican, after a scrum on the House floor in early April.

Lafferty was recording video of disruption in the chamber when Jones approached him and put his phone near his face. Lafferty grabbed Jones’ phone and allegedly pushed him. A floor ruckus ensued.

The incident occurred after Republicans made their initial move to expel Jones and Reps. Justin Pearson and Gloria Johnson for violating House decorum with a rally against gun violence after The Covenant School shooting.

Higher office in the offing?

Rep. Johnson, buoyed by national support in the wake of her near-expulsion, says she is “seriously considering” a run for U.S. Senate against Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn in the November 2024 election. The Knoxville Democrat says she’ll decide in the next couple of months.

“A lot of people are asking me to run, they want a senator who respects the human dignity of all Tennesseans and works to improve the lives of all Tennessee families – not just the wealthy and well connected,” she says.

A spokesman for Blackburn, who voted against the recent debt ceiling deal, didn’t respond to questions.

Wrong beach

The Senate Republican Caucus, in its zeal to celebrate the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers who stormed Normandy Beach in World War II, accidentally posted a picture of our troops going to shore in warmer climes 79 years ago.

Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?! (Photo: Getty Images)
Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?! (Photo: Getty Images)

The caucus deleted the post, but that didn’t keep some smarty-pants from grabbing screenshots of the photo showing American soldiers moving toward a palm-tree lined beach. They tell me palm trees don’t grow in France, which leads one to believe this is a South Pacific island invasion. 

Our conservative lawmakers love to accuse liberals of trying to erase history by doing horrible things such as moving the bust of the KKK’s first grand wizard out of the Capitol to the State Museum. They relocated two U.S. admirals, too, just so the Union wouldn’t have a leg up on Confederates because you never know when a skirmish is going to break out.

This snafu, however, proves that both parties are equal opportunity offenders at cleansing history. After all, we don’t want anyone to know we were going after Nazis.

“I wear this crown of thorns / Upon my liar’s chair.”

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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.