Covenant School parents form nonprofits to press school gun safety measures following Nashville shooting

Parents representing The Covenant School in Nashville, which was subject to a mass shooting that killed three students and three staff on March 27, gather to speak about the creation of two nonprofits announced during a news conference at the state capitol, Thursday, July 20, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. The non-profits will not only promote school safety and mental health resources, but also form an action fund to push legislative policy changes that would place certain limits on firearms inside Tennessee. (AP Photo/John Amis)

NASHVILLE — A group of parents-turned-activists whose children attend The Covenant School in Nashville have launched two nonprofit groups directed at protecting children from gun violence and making schools a "safer place."

Three children and three adult staffers died in a mass shooting attack at the private Christian elementary school in March.

Covenant Families for Brighter Futures is comprised of parents, school staff and survivors from the deadly attack. The nonprofit's focus is providing education regarding the impact and prevention of mass shootings and on improving mental health.

The shooter, killed by responding police, was a 28-year-old former Covenant student who is said to have had mental health problems.

The second organization is Covenant Action Fund, aimed at advocating for "meaningful change" to Tennessee gun laws, the subject of an Aug. 21 special legislative session planned by Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican whose wife, Maria Lee, was a friend of Covenant's head of school.

The governor has quietly been meeting in closed-door sessions with small groups of legislators and others.

The group of Covenant parents is advocating for gun reform, safe storage of weapons and background checks.

Sarah Shoop Neumann, a co-founder whose young son attends Covenant, and a group of other parents on Thursday held the first of its 40-day series of prayer services outside the Capitol building leading up to the special session.

"We're going to pray over every legislator over that time," Neumann said. "We're a bipartisan group of Christians."

She was joined by her 5-year-old son, Noah, a Covenant pre-schooler.

"I don't want any guns today or any day in my school," Noah said.

The group is not affiliated with the school or the Covenant Presbyterian Church, Neumann said.

Group members read selections from the Bible and also prayed for God to provide guidance for four lawmakers, two of whom are seen as opposing Lee's previous call for a law allowing judges to keep firearms away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Two of those prayed for are Democrats and seen as supporting new gun restrictions. Two of them are Republicans, one of them being Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.

"God the fountain of wisdom, whose will is good and gracious ... guide and bless Sen. Todd Gardenhire," prayed Sarah Eaves, one of the parents. "We pray for wisdom, courage and discernment leavened with the love of truth and righteousness and make him continually mindful of his calling to serve the people of Tennessee."

"Good, I need it," Gardenhire told the Chattanooga Times Free Press by phone when informed about the prayer. "We all need it. I'm praying for them."

During this year's legislative session amid growing tensions over gun issues, Gardenhire moved all firearms legislation over to lawmakers' 2024 calendar. But the bills could be considered in a special session depending on how Lee legally frames the call.

Some 60 Covenant parents are involved in the effort to lobby for new restrictions.

"In the days afterwards, I was telling my kids that the good people are making schools safe so that you can be safe," said David Teague, a Covenant father. "I'm here because I don't want to be lying to them.

"There are proven things we can do that can move the needle on safety that are widely supported. Gun owners even support closing background loophole checks."

He also cited safe gun storage and temporarily limiting access to firearms for folks who are a threat to them.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-285-9480.