Tennessee has emerged this week as a center of the "the answer is more guns in schools" sentiment following the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting.
A member of the Republican-controlled legislature plans during its upcoming session to introduce a bill that would allow the state to pay for secretly armed teachers in classrooms so, the sponsor told TPM, potential shooters don't know who has a gun and who doesn't.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) has said the idea will be part of his discussions about how to prevent a shooting like the one in Newtown from happening in the Volunteer State.
As has been seen following other mass shootings, there's a strong segment of the gun rights lobby that says the answer to events like the one in Newtown is more guns in more places. But they've said the recent massacre shows how important it is to put guns into elementary schools, where even gun-friendly states like Tennessee don't currently allow them.
State Sen. Frank Niceley (R) told TPM on Tuesday he believes it's time for that to change. He plans to introduce legislation in the next session, which begins Jan. 8, that will require all schools to have an armed staff member of some kind. The current language of the bill -- which is in its early form -- would allow for either a so-called "resource officer" (essentially an armed police officer, the kind which most Tennessee high schools have already) or an armed member of the faculty or staff in every school in the state. The choice would allow schools that can't afford a resource officer to fulfill the requirement without having to pay for anything beyond the cost of the training and, presumably, the weapon. But Niceley said schools should use the wiggle room to train and keep on hand armed staff not in uniform.
That's the best way to protect students, he said.
"Say some madman comes in. The first person he would probably try to take out was the resource officer. But if he doesn't know which teacher has training, then he wouldn't know which one had [a gun]," Niceley said by phone. "These guys are obviously cowards anyway and if someone starts shooting back, they're going to take cover, maybe go ahead and commit suicide like most of them have."
Niceley described himself as a person who as grown up around guns his whole life and a strong supporter of gun owners' rights. He tussled with the NRA during his last election over the letter grade he received from the group, though for the most part he's been rated A+.
Niceley's proposal has gathered some high-level interest. Tennessee's governor told reporters Monday that he's open to including it on the agenda for a January conference to discuss school safety. Nicely said he expect the governor "to be receptive" to his plan to use tax money to arm and train teachers.
Asked about concerns from gun control advocates that putting more guns in schools in the wake of Newtown might make them more dangerous, Niceley said the sentiment was naive. Not only does an unarmed school leave itself unprotected, he said, it also presents a tempting target.
"Look at it this way, you never see one of these whacko shooters go to a gun show and start shooting. They don't go down to the police station and start shooting," he said. "They go to places we advertise are gun-free."
School resource officers are paid jointly by the local sheriff's department and the school district. Niceley's bill would allow schools to pay for background checks and firearms training for teachers that woud allow them to be armed as well. Asked if the guns for the trained teachers would also be part of the taxpayer expense, Niceley laughed.
"Well, that's a minor detail in Tennessee," he said. "We hoped the teachers would have them already."
The teachers that would be trained would be volunteers, he said, and would likely carry their own firearms to school.