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Bill to arm some Tennessee teachers with guns on hold for now

A Tennessee lawmaker is delaying his proposal to arm some teachers with handguns.

Rep. David Byrd

Rep. David Byrd, who Gov. Bill Haslam named this week to a 17-member panel charged with scrutinizing school safety in Tennessee, said Tuesday he will take a “wait and see” approach before pressing his bill further in the legislature.

Byrd’s bill, which passed last week in a House subcommittee, was scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Civil Justice Committee and appeared to be gaining momentum. At least 40 out of 99 state representatives have signed on as co-sponsors.

But the measure is opposed by both Haslam’s administration and the state Department of Education. Byrd said the governor’s office asked him to hold off, and he agreed to a two-week delay.

“They asked me if I would hear them out and be on the task force and go to some meetings before I continue this,” said Byrd, a Waynesboro Republican and former school principal. “I can compromise. If it will get something done, I’ll be glad to roll it for a couple of weeks.”

Byrd has pushed to arm some school employees, saying the state does not provide enough money to put law enforcement officers in every district and every school. Last month, after a shooter at a Florida school killed 14 students and three faculty members, Byrd expanded his bill beyond rural districts to all districts. It would allow school boards to adopt policies that let some staff voluntarily carry a handgun on school property if they obtain a state permit and undergo training.

Now he’s hoping the governor will find extra money in next year’s budget to hire more law enforcement for schools.

“The best-case scenario is to have a school resource officer (SRO) in every school,” said Byrd. “I’m hoping that, by me being on the task force, the governor will see my way into at least funding these schools that don’t have an SRO.”

Byrd’s rural Wayne County district in East Tennessee is an example. It has eight schools but no money to hire law enforcement officers for them.

“I really think the ideal situation is to have both SROs and teachers who are trained to carry handguns,” he said. “The SROs could be in charge of the teachers who are armed and their ongoing training. I think it would be a great thing for our schools. One SRO is not enough.”

Byrd also has amended his bill to address a concern that arming teachers might lead some districts to drop its law enforcement officers at schools.

“The intent of this bill is to train teachers where we don’t already have SROs. I don’t want trained teachers to replace SROs. With this amendment, schools can’t substitute a trained teacher for that SRO if they already have one in place,” he said.

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