May 31, 2022 - Politics

Tennessee Republicans tell Axios what they'd do about mass shootings

Photo illustration of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee with lines radiating from him.
Gov. Bill Lee. Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tennessee's top Republican politicians are emphasizing investments in mental health treatment and beefing up school security as the best tools to prevent more mass shootings.

Driving the news: In the wake of the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, Axios asked top elected officials in state and federal government what policies they support to address mass shootings.

  • No Republican leader from Tennessee supported firearm restrictions.

Why it matters: The answers from Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty show the potential conservative policy push that could follow the Uvalde tragedy.

  • Leadership responses are especially noteworthy since the GOP has a stranglehold on state politics.

More school security: Lee's spokesperson touted the state's recent investments in school security, including the School Resource Officer Grant Program, which has placed 213 officers in public schools.

  • The program seems primed to expand following Uvalde. Sexton tells Axios he supports "enhancing and extending funding to continue having school resource officers at every school."
  • And at the federal level, Blackburn tells Axios the emphasis should be on improving "physical security at schools." There is already approximately $100 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund that can be used for this purpose, she says.
  • Blackburn said in a prepared statement that school officials with military or law enforcement experience should be able to carry firearms.

Mental health funding: Hagerty tells Axios lawmakers "must ensure that mental health issues are taken seriously." He says confirming that "adequate treatment is available in urban and rural areas" should be a priority.

  • McNally echoed Hagerty, touting a law passed last year that allocates $250 million toward the mental health trust to provide support for students.

What he's saying: "The superficial 'motives' for these crimes (white nationalism, Islamic Jihadism, vengeance, etc.) are various," McNally tells Axios via email. "The true common threads are mental illness, social isolation and dissolution of the nuclear family. That is where we must focus."

Yes, but: Republican leaders are in lockstep agreement that the recent mass shooting should not be used as a reason to crack down on access to guns.

  • "Using this horror to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens — before we even know what might have prevented this tragedy — and accusing anyone who disagrees of being complicit in this abhorrent crime is not a solution that will make us safer," Hagerty says.

The other side: The Republicans' approach stands in stark contrast to that of Tennessee Democrats who have responded to the Uvalde tragedy by calling for laws to make it more difficult to buy guns.

  • State Rep. John Ray Clemmons said at a press conference last week that Tennessee should implement a pause on gun sales without background checks. He also called for new laws that punish gun owners who leave firearms unsecured, such as in unlocked cars.
  • U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, who is in his final year of serving in Congress, cosponsored the Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act. Cooper also supports banning assault weapons, bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and 3D-printed guns.
  • "Some Republican-led states have increased protections for survivors of stalking and domestic violence and established red flag laws, but Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to support any legislation to stop the senseless gun violence in America," Cooper spokesperson Katie Feldhaus tells Axios.
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