State Rep. Eric Watson, a Republican from Bradley County's 22nd District, announced Monday his plans to introduce a measure in this year's General Assembly that would permit certain school personnel to carry a weapon in schools.
During a press conference at Bradley Central High School, the lawmaker said the primary goal of his bill was student safety, and he did not hesitate in mentioning the recent school massacre in Newtown, Conn., as prompting the legislation.
"The violence we see spreading from shopping malls in Oregon, to movie theaters in Colorado, to college campuses in Virginia, to elementary schools in Connecticut, is being spawned by the society in which we live," Watson, who is a former Bradley County sheriff's officer, said. "Politicians can no longer be allowed to defend their personal, ideological reasoning; instead, we must protect our children. Parents will no longer tolerate inaction from politicians."
As written, Watson's bill would give schools the option to have faculty and staff members become "highly trained" handgun carry permit holders. Faculty and staff would then have to get permission from local school systems and take further training in crisis management.
The bill would also dictate what kinds of ammunition could be permitted in schools to minimize the risk of ricochet.
Watson said he had not received any opposition to his bill, but expected there to be a backlash. The representative said he anticipated reactions to come from people who had not considered the details of his legislation, giving both schools and school systems the ability to opt in on the law.
"Basically, it's really simple," he said. "In Bradley Central High School, they have five former police officers that now teach … they would be perfect for this program. My bill doesn't allow just any teacher to carry a gun, like some folks think. It's totally different. There are a lot of factors, a lot of bridges that you have to cross before you can carry."
Watson's bill won't be the only guns in schools-related piece of legislation to be considered by the General Assembly this year. Already, at least three lawmakers have indicated their intention to put measures forward addressing the topic.
Whether a guns-in-schools bill would gain traction remains to be seen. Following the Connecticut shooting, Gov. Bill Haslam was reported saying he still thought schools and universities should be able to bar their employees from bringing guns to work, and House Speaker Beth Harwell has said on record that she opposes the idea of allowing teachers to be permitted to carry guns in classrooms.
The 108th General Assembly convenes Tuesday at noon.