Tennessee's Next Governor: What Can Be Done To Stop Mass Shootings | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee's Next Governor: What Can Be Done To Stop Mass Shootings

Jul 30, 2018

After the school shootings in Benton, Ky., and Parkland, Fla., this year, Tennessee legislators debated how to tighten up the state's gun laws. They wound up setting aside more money for school security, without passing any significant gun legislation. 

But some voters still say they'd like to see more action, so we asked the candidates for governor:

"What do you see as the key to preventing mass shootings?"

Across Tennessee, about 900 police have been assigned to schools — enough to cover roughly half of them. Officers are fairly common in high schools but they're virtually nonexistent in the lower grades.

That could change in the near future. Earlier this year, the state legislature set aside $30 million for police and other measures to tighten up security in schools.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says that makes sense.

"You know, you can have a concert and have a thousand people there and have 20 or 30 policemen. And you have a thousand people in a public school every day, and you have maybe one school safety officer that comes by for half a day. So we have got to make our schools more secure."

Tougher security was also endorsed by House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Republican.

Proposals that attack the problem by regulating guns tend to break along party lines. Fitzhugh and  Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, also a Democrat, have called for a measure that would let police temporarily confiscate guns from people who appear to pose a danger to themselves or to others.

Such so-called "red flag" laws are endorsed by the National Rifle Association. But among the four leading Republican contenders, Congressman Diane Black was the only one to suggest it.

"If you looked at every one of these situations, if we could've just found the root cause of this to begin with, we could've probably prevented some of the instances that are so tragic," she said.

Black also called for spending more on mental health.

Republican businessman Randy Boyd backed that position as well. But Republican Bill Lee expressed some doubt that more mental health spending could put a stop to mass shootings. He said the issues driving the phenomenon are too deep to solve through government spending.

QUESTION: What do you see as the key to preventing mass shootings?

Democrats

Craigh Fitzhugh: I'm concerned about schools. I think that they've become the obvious target because that's where our children are, you know. You know, you can have a concert and have a thousand people there and have 20 or 30 policemen. And you have a thousand people in the public school every day and you have maybe one school safety officer that comes by for a half a day. So we have got to make our schools more secure.

There are some things that I think will be good. The SROs, the school resource officers, are the best. But on the other hand, I think about the worst thing we can do is arm our teachers. They don't want to be armed. I don't think it helps the educational process or anything for that matter.

But the fact of the matter is now, we have children that are literally scared to go to school. And, you know, they can't learn if they're hungry. They can't learn is they're sick. They can't learn if they're having family problems at home, and they certainly can't learn if they don't feel safe where they're supposed to learn.

Karl Dean: I think, number one, we have a conversation in our state around access to guns, and what I'm talking about here, knowing that we have a state that is very supportive of the Second Amendment and a legislature that's been very supportive of that, is that it seems to me that there can be a common agreement that keeping firearms out of the hands of people that are dangerous, whether they have criminal records, whether they have some sort of mental illness, whether they are prone to violence, domestic violence or whatever that's been shown, that maybe our background needs to be better.

That, I think, is something where hopefully you could find common ground, where people could agree that keeping weapons out of the hands of people who are dangerous is a logical step. And that's not threatening, I think, to law-abiding people. And then I think that we need to encourage responsible gun ownership. But that to me is the place that I would start.

Republicans

Beth Harwell: It breaks my heart. And the bottom line is we have just got to get our schools safer. I wish that weren't the case because I have children in school myself. But the bottom line is this: We need to have armed security officers in every school in our state. I think that's the right way. They're properly trained and that would be a good thing for us. It's one of the few places where we don't have protections already in place, and our children are very vulnerable.

Bill Lee: You know, government is never going to be able to address — because we could never afford to bring about and institute policies and government programs that are going to address the mental health challenges of our state, I think again that's where we're going to engage the nonprofit communities across the state and the private sector, in fact, to address the root causes of some of these challenges that we have in our society.

Randy Boyd: One of the main things that we have to do from our school-safety point of view is make sure we have school resource officers. And so, as a governor, we're going to work with the BEP formula to be sure every school has a trained school resource officer. And we also got to make sure that our schools are safe.

But in general it's not just for schools, but in general, one of the biggest challenges we have as a society is mental health. And so we have to be more proactive in investing in facilities and treatment.

Diane Black: We first have to recognize that it is all of our responsibility, when we see someone that is going in a direction that may cause harm, that we can speak up, and we can bring it to the attention of those that are around the individual. And I am even in favor of the NRA's idea of gun-violence restraint orders. ...

Let's say you're a teacher and you see that a child's behavior is changing, and you find out that they have weapons in the home, that we could set up a process by which that individual could alert the police officers to let them know — the law enforcement, to let them know — that this person is seemingly having some ideation that may result in some harm to others and that there would be a taking of those weapons from that home until an analysis was done and it was determined that it was a safe situation.

Because that's what we've seen in every one of these cases. And by my background in nursing, we're always taught to go to the root cause. When we get a problem, we say, 'What is the root cause? Let's take it back.' And I do that in a lot of things that I do now in public policy. And if you looked at every one of these situations, if we could've just found the root cause of this to begin with, we could've probably prevented some of these instances that are so tragic.