Following Covenant shooting, Tennessee senators propose bills to increase school security

Tennessee’s two Republican senators introduced legislation Thursday to provide $900 million in grants to harden school security, just days after a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville took the lives of three 9-year-olds and three adults. 

The Securing Aid For Every (SAFE) School Act would send grants to public and private schools to fund school safety officer training for veterans and former law enforcement officers. The grants could also go toward physical reinforcements such as securing access to school entry points. 

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, one of the bill sponsors, said in a statement she hopes the funds would “help protect our precious children and secure our schools.”

Blackburn and fellow Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty, the other bill co-sponsor, both voted against last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the gun control bill signed into law by President Joe Biden to improve school safety and expand mental health support for children. 

At the time, Blackburn said in a social media post that while increased funding for school security and mental health support was a good thing, the measure was a way to “limit the 2nd Amendment.” She said she voted against it “because Americans’ constitutional right to keep & bear arms is not negotiable.”

Hagerty similarly said in a statement that “Congress should consider what it can do to address the root causes of senseless massacres that our country has seen far too often, but that any bill that infringes upon the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens would not have my support.”

He did not expand on the “root causes” at the time. Some Republicans, however, have previously blamed schools’ failure to teach Judeo-Christian values and single-mother households without father figures as driving forces behind school gun violence and mass shootings.

Parties split once again

The latest tragedy, this time wrought upon a small private school connected to a church, has reignited the party-line debate that surfaces after mass shootings, with Democrat-led efforts to curb gun access on one side and Republican pushes to harden physical security on the other. 

Alongside Hagerty and Blackburn’s proposal Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposed two bills that would repurpose federal emergency pandemic aid to harden schools and increase police presence on campuses. 

Last May, the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas, took the lives of 24 children and teachers. That was the third deadliest school shooting on a school or college campus in U.S. history, and the second deadliest in a K-12 school. Monday’s school shooting in Nashville had the most fatalities of any school shooting since Uvalde.

“And what is so infuriating is every time there is a mass shooting, Democrats in this chamber stand up and they don’t actually want to do something to stop the murderers,” said Cruz on the Senate floor Thursday. “Instead, they want another gun control bill to disarm law-abiding citizens that won’t actually stop the murderers, that won’t actually protect our kids.”

Cruz also voted against the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last year, after his amendment to increase school campus surveillance and physical security was blocked.

A photo of victims is displayed on a phone screen at a protest

An attendee at a gun violence protest displays a picture of the Covenant School shooting victims on their phone inside the Tennessee State Capitol.

Seth Herald/Getty Images via Getty Images


On the left, meanwhile, Democrats blame Republicans for inaction and have renewed their push to ban assault weapons and pass other gun control measures. 

In response to Cruz’s new bill proposals, staunch gun control activist Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he has “very little interest in engaging on the merits of these proposals, because they are not serious attempts to make our kids safer,” he said. 

Murphy’s state was home to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the deadliest K-12 school shooting in U.S. history that took the lives of 26 in 2012. 

Referring to Monday’s school shooting in Nashville, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., said, “There are six people that are dead in that school because you guys [Republicans] got rid of the assault weapons ban.”

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