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Tennessee Special Session Ends: Legislature Rejects Efforts to Arm Teachers and Put More Guns in Schools but Fails to Take Significant Action on Gun Safety Following the Mass Shooting at the Covenant School and Months of Advocacy

August 29, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network, released the following statement in response to Tennessee lawmakers ending their special session without action on gun violence prevention, despite Republican Governor Lee’s previous call to action following the mass shooting at the Covenant School. In the weeks since the shooting, Everytown along with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers, called on Tennessee leaders to reject efforts to weaken the state’s gun laws and find common ground on policies like an Extreme Risk law, which could have prevented the March shooting. Instead, Governor Lee’s weak proclamation didn’t allow for any meaningful gun safety legislation and set the stage for lawmakers in the majority to file several bills to arm teachers. However, following relentless advocacy by gun safety advocates, survivors, and students – despite aggressive efforts to tamp dissent – lawmakers ultimately rejected legislation to arm teachers and passed a proposal that will create a public awareness campaign on the secure storage of firearms and make secure storage devices easier to obtain.

“We had high hopes that after the shooting at Covenant School, politicians would understand the urgent need to prevent another senseless tragedy. They had the opportunity to do the right thing and once again, they failed to act,” said Zack Maaieh, head of the Students Demand Action Tennessee chapter and a student at Vanderbilt University. “Despite their inaction, we showed the power of our voices – refusing to back down even as mothers were being forcibly removed from hearings – and lawmakers were forced to reject a bill to arm teachers and put more guns in our schools. But we aren’t going anywhere – we’ll be back in January, showing out in droves to demand that lawmakers advance gun safety laws that protect our right to live and if they refuse to listen, we’ll come for their seats next November.” 

“Mothers who’ve had children taken by gun violence were thrown out for doing their job – holding our elected officials accountable and fighting for the safety of our families,” said Leeaan Hewlett, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. “Republican politicians have spent their time this special session trying to arm teachers in schools, but thanks to the courage and persistence of mothers and others these attempts fell short. While we are encouraged by proposals meant to promote the secure storage of firearms, this session fell woefully short, so we’re tracking votes, we’re taking names, and we will show up to the ballot box to vote out lawmakers who refuse to take action to save lives.” 

Following the Covenant Shooting leading up to and during the special session, the Tennessee chapters of Moms Demand Action, and Students Demand Action, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network, have been calling on lawmakers to act on gun safety, repeatedly showing up at the statehouse, holding rallies, and making their voices heard and will continue to impact the Tennessee political landscape to advocate for common-sense gun safety. Some of the actions volunteers have taken across the state include:

  • A press conference on the first day of the special session with Everytown survivor fellow Shaundelle Brooks, Anna Caudill friend of Katherine Koonce who was shot and killed at the Covenant School, Students Demand Action leaders Ibtihal Cheko and Helena Spigner, Moms Demand Action volunteer Carol Buckley Frazier, Rabbi Shana Mackler from the The Temple in Nashville, and actress, Nashville resident and mother Melissa Joan Hart. 
  • Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action volunteers showed up in droves to hearings and testified against arming teachers bills such as HB7043 and HB7064. 
  • Delivered a signed letter with over 100 Everytown survivor signatures to ask Governor Lee and lawmakers for leadership in preventing further tragedies in Tennessee. 
  • Showed up at the Capitol every day of special sessions, in committee rooms and the rotunda to advocate for common sense gun reform.

Tennessee currently has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the United States and some of the weakest gun laws in the country. An Extreme Risk law may have prevented the shooting at the Covenant School and saved six lives. Twenty-one states — including Indiana and Florida — have already passed an Extreme Risk law. Guns are the number one killer of children and teens in the U.S. and in Tennessee.

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