May 30, 2023 - News

Metro Council sets hearings responding to The Covenant School tragedy

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Following The Covenant School massacre, city leaders are mounting a campaign to address gun violence as a public health crisis.

Driving the news: Metro Councilmember Jeff Syracuse, who chairs the health and public safety committee, has organized a series of rare hearings this summer that will consider the issues of school security and gun-related crimes through that lens.

  • Syracuse says the hearings are about "turning grief into action."

Why it matters: State lawmakers are expected to return for a special session on gun reform in August. Although the city is limited in its policy options, Syracuse tells Axios there is room for improvement.

By the numbers: There have been 40 gun homicides in 2023 as of Friday, per Metro police.

What he's saying: "My goal is that if nothing else, every parent and every child will know their local leaders are doing everything possible to make schools safe places," Syracuse tells Axios.

Details: Council will conduct three hearings, each with a different focus. The first, on June 14 at Metro Courthouse, will focus on school safety and feature representatives from Metro Schools and the police department. Syracuse says the hearing is part educational, so the public can learn about steps those agencies have already taken to improve security, and part oversight.

  • "We need to learn what the council can do through legislation or funding to support those efforts," he says.
  • State lawmakers will also be in attendance to provide updates on the August special session.

The second hearing takes place at Hillsboro High on June 21. A leader of the Uvalde Foundation for Kids, an anti-gun violence nonprofit created in the wake of the shooting in Texas last year, will attend.

  • Local groups Moms Demand Action and the Akilah Dasilva Foundation will also participate in a panel discussion. Syracuse says the main goal is for council to hear the community's concerns.

The final hearing takes place June 28 at the courthouse and focuses on gun-related crimes as a public health concern.

Zoom in: The state has allocated funding to ramp up school safety measures, such as hiring more resource officers and conducting detailed facility assessments.

  • Syracuse points out that the police department and MNPS have already been collaborating on this issue.

Of note: "We can't necessarily restrict guns, but there are things we can do," Syracuse says.

He says previous gun buybacks and the free gun-lock devices that Mayor John Cooper funded in the most recent budget are examples of the city taking an active role.

  • "One of the outcomes I hope for is, from a public health perspective, to form a long-term advocacy platform on this issue."
  • Syracuse says that if legislative initiatives arise from the hearings, the council will likely agree to prioritize those measures before the term ends in September.

Get involved: Syracuse urges the public to submit its questions, concerns and suggestions online.


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