NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An election-year Tennessee legislative session tinged by national attention on a deadly school shooting in Florida saw many high-profile gun bills fail— both Republican efforts to ease gun laws and Democratic pushes to put more restrictions in place.
As in many other states, lawmakers in the Republican-led General Assembly scrambled to react in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead. They cleared a budget that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam infused with another $30.2 million to improve school safety after the Florida shooting.
Then, a shooting late last month that killed four people at a Nashville Waffle House loomed over the final days of the session for the gun-friendly Legislature.
Lawmakers approved a bipartisan bill that would let school districts pay off-duty law enforcement officers to serve as armed school officers during school hours or school-sponsored events, but they couldn’t be used to replace school resource officers.
And legislators passed a bill that will require notifying local law enforcement when someone fails a gun background check and is legally banned from having a gun because of involuntarily ending up in a mental institution, or being found by a tribunal to have a severe mental illness.
But few bills that vastly change gun rights made their way to Haslam’s desk.
The highest-profile gun bill that met its demise would have allowed school districts to decide whether to let teachers undergo training to carry guns in schools. Currently, former law enforcement officers with extensive training can carry guns if they work in schools, but lawmakers don’t believe almost any of them actually do.
Other proposed expansions of gun rights also fell short, including legislation to lower the penalty to $250 for a first offense of toting a gun without a handgun carry permit; a bill to let people with carry permits bring guns into an airport drive, general parking area, walkway, shop or other area of an airport terminal outside the screening checkpoint; and a proposal to let carry-permit holders bring their guns essentially anywhere an off-duty police officer could.
For their part, Democrats couldn’t draw enough support from Republicans to usher through several gun-safety ideas they put forward, even in the wake of the Florida school shooting.
A Tennessee bill to outlaw bump stocks was set aside to wait for federal action on the same issue.
There was little appetite for state legislation to let law enforcement officers seek court-issued temporary restraining orders to prohibit people from having guns if the officer believes they pose immediate and present danger to others or themselves.
And there was never a real push to increase the age limit to 21 to buy semi-automatic weapons, despite the Republican governor’s advocacy for the change, which garnered national attention.
Even a bill to exempt gun safes from sales tax, which its Democratic and Republican sponsors lauded during a news conference to announce its filing, failed.