By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As President Barack Obama’s security detail prepared for his Thursday visit to a Nashville high school, grief counselors went to the school to help students cope with the fatal shooting of a teen by a classmate.
The shooting came within an hour of the president’s State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, in which he renewed calls to curb gun violence.
“I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, in our shopping malls, or schools,” Obama said in the speech.
Police said the shooting took place at an apartment when 17-year-old Kaemon Robinson was playing with a pistol. It discharged, striking 15-year-old Kevin Barbee in the face. An attorney for Robinson said the teenager did not know the gun was loaded.
It was unclear how the president would address the shooting in his Thursday afternoon speech at McGavock Comprehensive High School. But his efforts to impose more restrictions on firearms purchases don’t enjoy widespread support in a state that prides itself on being gun friendly.
Obama has been thwarted by Congress in his efforts to reinstate the assault weapons ban and expand background checks for gun purchases. But a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012 led him to issue presidential memoranda on guns that included renewing federal gun research despite a law that had been interpreted as barring such research since 1996.
The day before Obama’s visit, Republican state lawmakers broke out in cheers when an official with gun maker Beretta USA Corp. credited Tennessee’s pro-gun culture in the company’s decision to choose a suburban Nashville site to build a $45 million plant and research facility.
“We started that search by looking only at those states that we felt had a consistent history and likely future history of support for Second Amendment rights,” Beretta board member Jeff Reh said Wednesday.
Other states “didn’t have the type of support that we saw in Tennessee,” he said.
State lawmakers last year enacted a law to allow people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked, including company parking lots. When asked if Beretta will allow its employees to keep guns in their cars at work, Reh responded, “if that’s allowed by state law, yes.”
The president’s visit also comes as Tennessee lawmakers push legislation to remove the ability of city and county governments to ban guns from local parks, ball fields and playgrounds. That measure is advancing in the Legislature despite the misgivings of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor.