A bill designed to prevent school violence by providing faculty with the resources needed to protect students was signed by the governor Wednesday in a ceremonial setting in Nashville.
The school protection bill represents a commitment by legislators to provide local education agencies with the tools needed to protect the students of Tennessee, said State Rep. Eric Watson, who sponsored the legislation.
The new law allows retired, previous, or current law enforcement officers across the state to possess a firearm on school property if the person has a handgun carry permit, is authorized in writing by the school superintendent, is in compliance with all laws, rules and regulations of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, and has had at least 40 hours of basic school police training.
Once a person meets these standards, they can be hired by education officials to serve in the capacity of a school security officer.
“I thank Gov. (Bill) Haslam and representative Watson for their strong support and good work in providing additional funding for education,” said Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools. “This bill is a sensible, practical approach that supports the efforts of educators to keep our schools safe.”
Bradley Central High School Principal Todd Shoemaker said administrators from all across the country are looking for ways to ensure students are kept safe each time they enter school.
“Parents put their trust in the schools and administration to ensure that their children are safe every day,” Shoemaker said. “I believe this bill is a strong step in helping to provide a safe and secure environment for our students and staff members.”
Watson filed the bill in January in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed.
He said the violence in December 2012 increased the debate about how best to protect against school-place violence. As part of that debate, legislators began searching for ways to protect schools.
Watson said he received 60 calls from school administrators and teachers throughout the 22nd District who asked for help. The new law allows highly trained faculty and staff to carry a weapon under specific guidelines.
“Those individuals must have a handgun carry permit and permission from local education agencies. They must also take further training in crisis management and hostile situations. In addition, ammunition in the weapon will have to minimize the risk of ricochet,” he said.
“In the wake of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the House of Representatives is committed to doing all we can to protect the children and educators of our community. The safety of our schools is essential to the future of our state, and I fully believe this legislation is a giant step in ensuring Tennessee schools are protected on a daily basis.”
The National Rifle Association, Tennessee Education Association, Professional Educators Association, Tennessee Sheriffs Association, Tennessee Police Chiefs Association and many others supported Rep. Watson’s bill.