May 26, 2022 - News

Tennessee leaders respond to the Uvalde massacre

children and parents hugging and crying after the terrible tragedy in Texas on Tuesday
People mourn following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Tennessee leaders were quick to condemn the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Texas, but their responses laid bare the deep ideological schism on the matter of guns.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers seem willing to consider policy changes in the wake of the school shooting that left 19 children and two adults dead.

  • But gun control measures remain unlikely in a state that regularly expands access to firearms.

Driving the news: State Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) held a fiery press conference Wednesday, imploring Gov. Bill Lee and lawmakers to act.

  • Clemmons said the starting point should be a special legislative session to "work together and take action on the public health crisis."
  • Clemmons called for a pause on gun purchases without background checks.

"Gun violence plagues our entire community. Whether it be the Waffle House in Antioch, the supermarket in Buffalo, ballparks and even churches, no part of our community is sacred or off-limits to gun violence," Clemmons said.

By the numbers: Clemmons built his argument around statistics showing rising gun violence in Tennessee.

  • From 2010 through 2019, the rate of gun deaths in Tennessee increased by 28%, compared to the national average of 17%. Gun homicides rose by 59% during that span, Clemmons said, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, one of Tennessee's most prominent Republicans, said in a widely shared tweet that he believes common ground is possible.

  • "Firearms became the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers in 2020, surpassing car accidents for the first time in 60 years," Frist said. "We can find ways to preserve the intent of the Second Amendment while also safeguarding the lives of our children."

Yes, but: Over the last decade, the Republican-led legislature passed laws making it easier to buy guns, and expanded where they can be carried to include places that serve alcohol, parks and vehicle trunks.

State of play: State Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) said he reached out to the state Department of Education about expanding the security presence at schools, an effort supported by House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

  • "We must find a way to have a school resource officer in all of our schools," Faison said. "Evil exists and we must protect the innocent from it."
  • Faison did not mention gun control as an option.
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