(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Nashville, Tennessee, Mayor John Cooper publicly called on lawmakers to pass an extreme risk protection law and take action on gun safety one week after a shooter killed six people at a local private school.
Tennessee has “some of the weakest gun laws in the country,” and the state needs to do a better job of keeping guns away from people at risk, Cooper said during a press conference Thursday. According to Cooper, the loosening of gun laws has contributed to an increase in gun violence, in addition to a rise in the number of guns stolen, particularly from car break-ins.
“The answer to too many guns just can’t be more guns,” Cooper said.
While there are several safety measures in place at schools, such as student resource officers for protection, that cannot be the whole solution, Cooper said. He called it “unacceptable” that parents, students and teachers go to school with fear for their safety.
“They all deserve answers as how do we improve to have a safer society? And it’s a shocking thing that our schools have to spend all this time not on instruction, but on safety drills. That’s not something that we should accept and Republican lawmakers need to be part of the answer,” he said.
The extreme risk protection law Cooper is calling for would keep guns out of the hands of people in crisis. Nineteen states have extreme risk protection laws on the books. While the specifics of the laws differ by state, they allow law enforcement and/or families to ask a judge to remove guns from people posing a risk to themselves or others.
“These kinds of extreme risk laws, often known as red flag laws, would have likely prevented or affected the last three mass shootings here in Nashville. That’s remarkable. One is Covenant School last week, one at the Waffle House in 2018 and one at Burnett Chapel Church of Christ in 2017,” Cooper said.
All three shooters had exhibited warning signs leading up to the shooting.
“I’ve spent several of the most recent days attending funerals, and these are memorials that should not be happening as often as they do in the United States. The murder weapons that stole six lives from us were legally purchased here and so were multiple other guns that the assailant had been stockpiling,” Cooper said.
The shooter at The Covenant School, a former student identified by police as 28-year-old Audrey Hale, allegedly planned the shooting for months.
Hale was armed with two assault-style rifles, a handgun and “significant ammunition” at the time of the attack, according to police. Authorities said Hale owned seven legally purchased guns from five different local stores. She fired 152 rounds during the March 27 shooting.
Hale had exhibited warning signs for dangerous behavior and was known to be a firearm owner, according to police.
“In the months leading up to the tragedy, the shooter was extremely disturbed, and her loved ones knew it. Her parents didn’t think she was stable enough to own guns and her friends were worried about the messages she was sending them,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said during the press conference.
“Now, obviously, there are no guarantees in life, but if Tennessee had an extreme risk law, family members and friends could have turned their fears into action,” Feinblatt said.
After the shooting, Republican Gov. Bill Lee and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally indicated they would support some gun safety measures, including laws that would keep guns away from people who pose a risk to themselves or others, according to local outlet The Tennessean.
The governor also proposed $140 million in funds for more school resource officers and guards, as well as an increase in mental health liaisons.
Cooper said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Tennessee lawmakers could pass an extreme risk protection law due to the support from senior leadership. Senior state leadership on both sides of the isle have indicated they support red flag laws, creating a path for such legislation, according to Cooper.
“We have to turn our grief into action. We have to honor those precious lives stolen from us and work together to do a better, safer future for all of us,” Cooper said. “And that’s a future that does not repeat last week’s events.”
“There has to be a better answer than no answer. Just silence on the subject is not acceptable to the public,” Cooper added.
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