At least a few teachers and other school personnel could take their guns to class under legislation approved Wednesday by the state Senate, but their identifies will be kept secret.
The bill touched off lengthy debate before being approved 27-6 with an amendment declaring that only the school principal, the school superintendent and local law enforcement authorities will know those authorized to carry weapons.
The House, which had approved the measure earlier, approved the Senate revisions on a 75-15 vote without debate. That sends the bill to Gov. Bill Haslam, who negotiated with legislators in drafting the overall bill.
“If I’m a parent, don’t I have a right to know if a teacher is carrying a gun or not?,” asked Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, in the Senate debate.
Sens. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, said keeping the names confidential would be a deterrent to anyone planning an attack.
“For a person who is intent on assaulting a school, one of the best pieces of information that person could have is who has a gun in that school,” said Green. “Secrecy protects the safety of students.”
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, tried to revise the amendment to “at least” require officials to prepare a report to legislators for next year giving the number of people who are approved for carrying guns in schools and how many schools they cover. But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, said that would amount to “busy work for state employees” and Campfield’s proposal was rejected.
The bill grants authority to carry guns in schools to faculty and staff who have law enforcement experiences, who hold a handgun carry permit, who get written approval from the school superintendent and school principle and then attend a special 40-hour class in “school policing.”
Each school system will decide whether to allow guns for qualified people in schools. The state will provide no funding, but Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget for the coming year includes $34 million for distribution to schools statewide for security improvements and schools could use their share for retaining guards.
Campfield said the bill is so “watered down” that it will provide no real protection, citing an estimate that about 100 people in 1,700 schools statewide would now meet the criteria set out in the bill.
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, noted that the bill does not specify what kind of weapons may be carried by the qualified school personnel, meaning an “AK-47 or a Uzi” could appear.
The bill will thus leave some people “horrified” at the idea of gun-wielding teachers, he said, while others will be upset with the legislation’s limitations.
“You’re not really providing true safety to anybody with this approach, which is half-hearted at best,” Kelsey said. “If we’re truly serious, we’re going to have to suck it up and pay for it.”
But Niceley, who at one point had proposed state funding for an armed office in every school, said the bill is the best compromise that can be achieved in the Legislature this year and provides a new option for schools where officials believe new security is needed.