MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Should teachers in Tennessee public schools be armed? Republican state Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville says yes, but the answer from Shelby County Schools is a firm no.
A House subcommittee recently voted to send a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed firearms to a full committee.
"I am not saying that this is the do all to be all. I by no means, nor does anyone I think, want to arm teachers for the purpose other than them teaching. It's just a last line of defense if they find themselves locked in a classroom," Williams said.
But he was met with opposition from students.
"I don't see why we should allow guns into classrooms. I don't see why I should have to ignore a firearm in the room that I am trying to test in, and how I should be expected to cope with the idea that my teacher is ready to seriously harm a human being," one student said during debate at the Capitol.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris M. Ray said the district favors keeping students safe through education, not ammunition.
"As a district our priority is arming teachers with professional development, academic resources and support from our administration to provide a high quality education for our students," Ray said. "At no point do I endorse arming teachers with firearms within our classrooms. Education is our greatest weapon.”
Retired officer Brink Fidler, who's now working in security consulting, says he's not totally opposed to the concept, but believes teachers need more than a concealed carry license.
"Really take a deep dive into this thing about how we're gonna do that," Fidler said. "If teachers want to do this then let's send them to the state academy. Right, make them post law enforcement commissioners, and give them a raise. Whatever it is.
"But there needs to be more training than just a carry permit to be able to go into my children's school and get an accurate shot off during an active shooter event. Even police officers that are trained have a hard time doing that," he said.
This is far from the first time Keith Williams, executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, has heard this discussion.
"It would create more problems then it would solve," he said. "How would we secure them? What would happen if a child got a hold? What would happen if there was an accident in the school and the teacher was shot?"
After hearing many concerns about the bill, Williams says he wants to take some time to discuss ways to improve it as it moves on to the full Education Committee.
A spokesperson for Governor Bill Lee sent us a statement saying:
Gov. Lee believes we should explore every option available to keep our students and teachers safe which is why he committed $40 million in his budget to provide SROs and additional school safety measures in schools across our state. Gov. Lee’s school safety package passed in the General Assembly today and he will further review any additional school safety proposals put forth by the legislature.