HomeFeaturedTodd’s gun-safety classes in public schools’ bill clears Tennessee House

Todd’s gun-safety classes in public schools’ bill clears Tennessee House

Democrat-filed amendments shut down by Republican supermajority

By Sabrina Bates

Staff Writer

A series of proposed amendments to firearms safety courses becoming part of Tennessee public school systems’ curriculum were shot down by House members earlier this month. House Bill 2882, proposed by Rep. Chris Todd (R-73) of Madison County, passed the Tennessee House of Representatives last week. Its Senate companion, SB 2923 is sponsored by Sen. Paul Bailey (R-15) of Sparta and slated for the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

Todd’s proposal would mandate the implementation of firearms safety courses in Tennessee public schools beginning with the 2025-26 school year. It requires the departments of education and safety, along with the Tennessee Wildlife Commission, to study the earliest grade deemed appropriate for students to receive instruction on firearm safety.

Under the legislation, students in public school systems would learn firearm safety at the grade deemed appropriate by the above-mentioned organizations and every year after through the 12th grade.

When the proposed legislation was brought before the full House last week, a series of suggested amendments by House Democrats were shot down by the Republican supermajority. 

Rep. Jason Powell (D-53) of Nashville proposed an amendment to the measure allowing parents to opt out of the safety courses.

“We’re here trying to limit parental choice, but if we really believe in parental choice, we’d adopt this amendment,” Powell said. His district was impacted last March by the Covenant School shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in Tennessee’s history. The shooter killed three nine-year-olds and three adults at the school before being shot by the Metro Nashville Police Department on March 27, 2023. Powell said people in his district are far too traumatized and impacted by school shootings, which would not have been prevented by Todd’s legislative proposal. 

“What we need to address are parents and adults who have access to guns at home. … We should be raising laws for safe storage and those who are irresponsible with their gun; that has not happened since we were called to action last year,” Powell added. His amendment for parental choice to allow a student to opt-out of the safety courses was voted down, 69-22.

Rep. Justin J. Pearson (D-86) of Memphis piggy-backed a similar amendment that would allow parental choice to opt their student out of the firearm safety courses. That proposal failed. Pearson is one of the two Tennessee representatives who were expelled by the General Assembly last year after demanding policy changes as it pertains to gun laws in the state on the House floor, shortly after the Covenant School shooting. Pearson was reinstated to his House seat by an overwhelming vote in his local district.

Another amendment proposed by Pearson would have eliminated the Eddie Eagle GunSafe program as a source of instruction in the classrooms. The Eddie Eagle program is a division of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which Pearson claimed is “not viewpoint neutral.” 

In Todd’s bill, part #2 stipulates the coursework would be “viewpoint neutral on political topics, such as gun rights, gun violence and the Second Amendment to the Constitution.”

Pearson’s amendment to remove the Eddie Eagle program from coursework was voted down, 73-17.

Pearson asked House members to consider an amendment to allow a Local Education Agency (LEA) a choice to not allow the “NRA to teach our children.” It failed by a vote of 73-18. 

Circling back to what can be taught under the proposed measure, Pearson asked House members to add the coursework would “be taught by an entity that advocates against weapons of war in communities.” The amendment failed by a vote of 74-17.

The Memphis representative noted, “we have failed to pass meaningful and just legislation.”

Rep. Todd explained “this exact bill passed in 2020 on this floor – the state’s SAVE Act, which is basic safety training in schools.” Other representatives likened Todd’s proposal to teaching children fire safety or how to safely cross the street in schools.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-98) of Memphis said it was an interesting bill and helps “create some equalization for the races.” 

“Our people need gun safety in our district. Many of our children are dying because they are ignorant [to gun safety],” Parkinson said. He added it was sad “we couldn’t get opt-out, but we should also allow parents to opt-in.”

“I think we should be educating adults. Parents need to be educated,” Parkinson noted. He said in rural districts, children have been getting gun safety for years through hunter-safety courses, and with this bill, children in his district will receive gun safety education.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-93) of Memphis reminded House members to pay attention to what’s going on with children.

“I haven’t heard anything about suicide rates, which are escalating among children; this is not a perfect bill,” Hardaway added.

Todd explained the coursework would not include live ammunition, live fire, or live firearms. He explained the coursework simply states, “if you see a gun, tell an adult,” adding he thinks it will be a “life-saving” measure. In addition, the proposed bill notes it will teach students safe storage of firearms, school safety relating to firearms, how to avoid injury if the student finds a firearm, to never touch a found firearm, and to immediately notify an adult of the location of a found firearm.

The summary for the proposed bill’s fiscal note reads the impact is not significant as LEAs and public charter schools will be able to utilize free materials and instructional programs on firearm safety readily found on the internet.

In previous committee meetings, it was suggested school systems could use School Resource Officers to provide the instruction and there is no expected addition of hours to a regular school day.

LEAs and public charter schools can use the coursework as a credit toward the annual school safety training required by the state-level safety team’s template for school safety plans.

Sabrina Bates, sabrina@richardsonmediagroup.net

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