Eight weeks after their daughter was fatally shot at Covenant School, Katy and Michael Dieckhaus struggled to express their appreciation for community members attending Monday night's gun reform discussion at Woodmont Christian Church.
"You all have continued to show us how to be beacons of light, strength and love," said Katy Dieckhaus, whose daughter, Evelyn, 9, was one of six people killed in the Nashville school shooting.
The shooter, Audrey Hale, 28, fired 156 rounds with two assault rifles and a pistol.
Monday's forum occurred less than two miles from the late March shooting.
From protests and press conferences to social media posts and panel discussions, this event at Woodmont Christian Church marked the latest local effort to bring attention to gun reform, which has become a national issue.
Within days of the tragedy, students, parents and community members sought gun reform, yet Tennessee lawmakers concluded the 2023 legislative session without addressing it. Then earlier this month, Gov. Bill Lee announced plans for a special legislative session on August 21 to address gun reform.
Monday's panel, moderated by News Channel 5's Ben Hall, sought to explain how gun reform reached Tennessee.
'It's a moral issue, we have to do something different'
Former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist has been faced with the question of what can be done to prevent school shootings. At first, he did not have an answer.
Following the Covenant School shooting, Frist, a gun owner, hunting enthusiast and proponent of the Second Amendment, started considering a fresh look at gun control, including policy changes. Times have changed, he said, and the nation needs common sense reform. The former Senate majority leader said school shootings are becoming a public health emergency. He cited guns as the No. 1 killer of children under 19.
Joining Frist during Monday's forum were Vanderbilt surgeon Alex Jahangir and the Rev. Clay Stauffer of Woodmont Christian Church, who officiated over Evelyn Dieckhaus’ funeral. (On April 17, the trio of Nashville leaders co-wrote an op-ed in The Tennessean titled "Gun violence is the No. 1 killer of children; here are common-sense steps to address it." The opinion column highlighted four commonsense, bipartisan ways to reduce gun violence.
Stauffer said at the event he can't sit back and not enact change, one of the reasons his church hosted Monday's forum.
"It's a moral issue, we have to do something different," Stauffer said. "Our children deserve better."
Enact extreme risk protection orders. Much like red flag laws, this would allow families or police to temporarily confiscate firearms belonging to potentially dangerous people or bar them from purchasing firearms.
Child access prevention and safe storage laws. It's all about responsible gun ownership. Legislation would impose penalties on adults that allow children unsupervised access to firearms, while safe storage laws require gun owners to store firearms unloaded.
Expand background checks to all firearm purchases. Tennessee is without universal background checks as those legally prohibited from purchasing weapons often circumvent the system through private sales.
Require firearm safety courses. Every licensed hunter must complete a course; why not gun owners? The panel said education could reduce firearm injures and accidental deaths.
The school shooting impacted Jahangir, who has three children. As a surgeon, he sees numerous gunshot wound victims.
He said there are legislators that would support gun reform, but they need to hear the voices of their constituents to vote for it.
Frist said polarization of politics have been a root cause for a lack of gun laws, especially in Tennessee.
"One out of every 20 Americans adults has an AR-15," Frist said. And there are more than 420 million guns in America today, more than one per person.
That's why Frist urged the crowd of more than 400 people to get to know their state legislators, write letters and make their voices heard.
Reach reporter Craig Shoup by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Craig_Shoup. To support his work, sign up for a digital subscription to www.tennessean.com.
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Leaders discuss gun reform in Nashville in aftermath of Covenant shooting