After a mass shooting at an elementary school in
Texas last year prompted calls for new gun restrictions, Republican-led states
around the country moved in the other direction, reported The New York Times. One of them was Tennessee,
where the governor insisted that tighter firearms laws would never deter
“We can’t control what they do,” Gov. Bill Lee said.
Tennessee lawmakers have instead moved to make
firearms even more accessible, proposing bills this year to arm more teachers and allow college students
to carry weapons on campus, among other measures.
Then came the attack on Monday at the Covenant
School in Nashville, where a shooter carrying multiple weapons killed six
people, including three children. The same day, a federal judge signed off on a
state settlement allowing people as young as 18 to carry a handgun without a
Amid the ghastly cadence of multiple mass shootings
that have prompted calls for more comprehensive controls on guns, Republicans
in statehouses have been steadily expanding access to guns.
this year to limit gun-free zones, remove background
checks and roll back red-flag laws that seek to remove firearms from those who
are a danger to themselves or others.
Missouri last year enacted a measure that made it
illegal for local law enforcement to cooperate with federal authorities in many
gun investigations. A federal judge earlier this month struck down the law as unconstitutional.
“I think it’s gotten progressively worse over the
years,” North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, said in an interview.
On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Legislature in his state overrode his
veto and eliminated a century-old pistol permitting system.
In 25 states, no permits are required to carry a
handgun — nine more than in 2020.
“That has been the most rapid expansion of gun
rights at the state level that we have seen,” said Jacob Charles, an associate
professor who specializes in firearms law at the Pepperdine Caruso School of
Perhaps nowhere represents the shift to expand gun
access more than Tennessee, a state at the crossroads of Appalachia, the upper
South and lower Midwest whose politics on guns typify Red America’s rapid
movement rightward on gun regulations.
In recent years, Republicans in the Tennessee State
Legislature — a 20-minute drive from the site of this week’s mass shooting —
have passed a series of measures that have weakened regulations, eliminating
some permit requirements and allowing most residents to carry loaded guns in
public, open or concealed, without a permit, training or special background
The decisions came even after a representative of
the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association rose at a legislative hearing to oppose the
permitting measure, saying it would make knowing whether a person was
unlawfully carrying a weapon more difficult for law enforcement.
Jerry Sexton, then a Republican state
representative, accused him of wanting “to infringe upon the rights of us as a
“I am offended by the fact that you are doing this,”
Mr. Sexton said. “I say that you need to back off and let citizens be
A congressman in Georgia ran for the office in 2020
with yard signs featuring an AR-15 rifle. Former President Donald J. Trump made
a point of appearing in person at the National Rifle Association convention in
Houston in May, not long after the school shooting in Uvalde. Other candidates
have repeatedly been using guns in television ads.
Representative Andy Ogles, a Republican whose
district includes the Covenant School where this week’s mass shooting took
place, posted a Christmas photo of his family posing with rifles in 2021. The
photo drew criticism this week in the aftermath of the killings.
“Why would I regret a photograph with my family
exercising my rights to bear arms?” he said.
The National Rifle Association remains a potent
force on the right despite a recent drop in fund-raising, amid questions about
the lavish spending habits of its senior leadership in the Beltway. And the gun
rights movement itself has become both more diffuse and influential, with local
groups — including the Gun Owners of America and the conservative Dorr brothers
network in the Midwest — gaining a following, and pressuring Republican state
lawmakers from the right.
In the Nashville killing, the parents of the shooter
— identified by police as Audrey E. Hale — had reported that their child was
under doctors’ care and “should not own weapons,” said Chief John Drake of the
Nashville Metro Police Department. The shooter had purchased seven firearms
from five local gun stores and then used three of them during the attack.
The Republican initiatives have not been limited to
statehouses. In Congress, the same day as the Tennessee shooting, the House
Judiciary Committee chairman, Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, postponed a
hearing where he planned to make the case for a Republican bill to outlaw one
of the modest regulatory efforts undertaken by the Biden administration, a
requirement to register so-called stabilizing braces that allow semiautomatic
pistols to be propped against the shoulder for easier, more focused firing.
Images of the weapons used in the Nashville shooting
appeared to show that the killer owned such a brace and might have used it in
the attack, according to law enforcement officials. It would not have been
illegal to possess one — owners of the braces have until the end of May to
register their weapons and pay a $200 fee to comply with the change.
“Democrats were going to turn this tragic event into
a political thing,” Mr. Jordan told reporters at the Capitol on Monday night.
He said he had no plans to withdraw the measure or to slow his push to loosen
One of Tennessee’s senators, Marsha Blackburn, made
no mention of gun control ideas but called on Congress to find ways to increase
security in schools.
Gov. Lee vowed to “act to prevent this from
happening again” in Tennessee, but did not offer any specifics on how he
planned to do so. A key committee in the state General Assembly decided to
postpone the consideration of any bills relating to guns until next week, with
State Senator Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, saying, “We need to be
respectful of those victims and the families of the victims.”
Researchers examining the impact of mass shootings
on gun policy found a few years ago that states with Republican-controlled
legislatures were more likely to loosen gun laws in the year after a mass
shooting in their state than in other years.
States led by Democrats have long been pursuing more
stringent gun control measures.
In Connecticut after the school shooting in Newtown
in 2012, state lawmakers expanded an assault weapons ban, banned high-capacity
magazines and implemented universal background checks. Oregon voters last year
approved a sweeping gun control measure, which requires gun purchasers to get a
permit and take a gun safety course, that is currently being challenged in
Other measures under consideration this year include
efforts in Minnesota to make it easier to take guns from people deemed to be a
threat, a plan in Oregon to ban untraceable guns that are assembled at home and
a bill in Michigan to penalize those who leave guns in places accessible to
State Representative Bo Mitchell, a Democrat from
Nashville, has been outspoken about his opposition to various bills currently
under review in the Tennessee Legislature that would expand access to firearms,
hoping instead that lawmakers might respond to the recent mass shootings with
measures such as expanded background checks and a ban on assault rifles. The
state, he noted, has dealt with a series of mass shootings and soaring gun
deaths among youths.
“If guns made
us safer, Tennessee should be one of the safest states in the country,” he
said. “Instead, we have one of the worst gun violence problems in America.”
Hundreds of people gathered in Public Square Park in
downtown Nashville on Wednesday for a vigil honoring those killed during this
week’s shooting, cupping their hands around flickering white candles or
shielding their eyes from the bright sun.
They embraced one another and wiped away tears, some
singing along as the musician Ketch Secor performed “Will the Circle Be
The seven children of Mike Hill, a beloved custodian
killed in the shooting, joined Jill Biden, the first lady, Mayor John Cooper,
local leaders and law enforcement officials.
On the steps of the courthouse and at City Hall,
they left flowers.
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