NASHVILLE — Parents whose children attend a conservative Christian elementary school in Nashville where six people were killed in a March gun attack said Sunday they are hopeful some progress may be made during Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's special session on public safety, which begins Monday.
Most of Lee's fellow Republicans, who dominate the General Assembly, have ruled out passage of an extreme risk protection order or other so-called red flag laws to make it easier to remove firearms from mentally ill people deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.
GOP lawmakers are focused largely on juvenile crime.
According to Nashville police, the shooter at The Covenant School, a 28-year-old former student, was under a doctor's care for what police have said was an "emotional disorder."
The former student was armed with semi-automatic weapons during the rampage and was killed by responding police.
"We're still hopeful," David Teague, whose children attend Covenant, said in an interview Sunday as he and other parents and friends gathered at the entrance to the state Capitol to hold their 40th and final day of prayer in advance of Monday's special session.
"I feel like the way we've approached things has allowed breathing room for conversations to happen, but we don't necessarily expect to be solved in the next week," Teague added. "We're hopeful this is just the beginning of a longer process of change. I know there are some who are probably frustrated that things aren't faster and more. And I think there was a very big risk that there would be nothing. So any step that's in the right direction is a good step even if it's not as far as we would like it today."
Teague and Sarah Shoop Neumann, who also has a child at Covenant, are involved in Covenant Families for Brighter Tomorrows, focused on education regarding the effect and prevention of school shootings while also improving mental health. A second group, Covenant Families Action Fund, is seeking to drive "meaningful" legislative change on school shootings.
Shoop Neumann told the Chattanooga Times Free Press at the prayer session that she hadn't really thought much about school shootings until the 2022 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which a former student fatally shot 19 students and two teachers while another 17 were wounded or otherwise injured. Seeing a police car outside Covenant after Uvalde made her more aware.
"Still, like after that I did not email a legislator, I didn't make one call," Shoop Neumann added. "So truthfully, I feel like I'm complicit in the problem because I didn't act," said Shoop Neumann, a nurse by training.
"Largely I didn't realize what I should or could be doing," she said. "And I know I can't go back and change that. But I can make sure that everybody now knows these people work for you, they're your representatives and senators. You don't need to speak legal policy to them, you don't need to have that language. You can tell them as their constituent, 'I do not want guns in the hands of someone that might harm themselves or others.' That's their job to figure out the policy to make that happen."
She said she also has found it's fairly easy to speak with legislators.
"We can connect as a human regardless of where our political views are, regardless of our policy, let's sit at the table and look at each other as humans, parents, sister, brother, whatever," she said. "And I think that approach over the past five months, it just started out so stiff and uncomfortable, and now I'm like, I can do this. And I feel like that's productive, and I'm carrying their ideas and they're listening to mine."
She said her approach has been to ask them what they can do "instead of just focusing on, 'I'm so mad that they won't do X, Y or Z.' Well, sit down and ask them what they will do."
House Speaker Cameron Sexton and a number of his fellow Republicans are seeking to boost criminal sentences for juveniles convicted of violent crimes, including with guns.
Some Republicans have discussed not attending the special session. On Sunday, there was speculation more could follow after the House and Senate Government Operations Committee canceled a previously planned meeting Monday. If enough members skip the special session, it could deny the House a quorum to conduct business.
But House Government Operations Committee Chair John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, told the Times Free Press by phone that the decision to cancel the meeting was made due to the special session, which Ragan said he intends to attend.
Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-285-9480.