Nine States Allow School Employees to Carry Guns. Students and Teachers Worry It Will Do More Harm Than Good.

A school shooting in Tennessee sparked activism—and now frustration.

Students embrace in front of a memorial at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville on March 28, 2023. A heavily armed former student killed three young children and three staff in what appeared to be a carefully planned attack at a private elementary school in Nashville, before being shot dead by police. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images)

This story was originally published by The 19th.

Ibtihal “Ibti” Cheko, 17, thought she would spend the legislative session in Tennessee advocating for laws about how guns should be stored and implementing background checks for those who want to buy them. Instead, Cheko and other organizers with Students Demand Action pivoted to trying their hardest to make sure Senate Bill 1325, which would permit faculty and staff to carry handguns at school, did not pass. 

They weren’t successful. The bill, which was co-sponsored by three Republican state senators, passed in both chambers in April.

“There was this general consensus of just powerlessness among me and my peers, because it seemed like nothing we did mattered,” said Cheko, who is a student at Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville.

Though Tennessee is a red state, where Republicans hold most statewide offices and control both legislative chambers, people are split evenly over legislation that allows public school teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns at school. Protests aimed at blocking the bill were often led by girls and women—students like Cheko, mothers and teachers, a predominantly women workforce. 

There was this general consensus of just powerlessness among me and my peers, because it seemed like nothing we did mattered.

Ibtihal Cheko, student at Hume-Fogg High School

Passage of the law came over a year after a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, where a former student shot and killed three students and three staff members. The moment sparked Cheko’s activism. 

“I would consider myself to be somebody who’s always been an advocate for the issues that affect me and other people in my community. But on this particular issue, definitely I saw after the Covenant shooting, I’d say was the main catalyst for it, especially considering that guns are the number one killer of my generation. And especially in Tennessee, we have like some of the worst state gun laws in the country,” Cheko said.

Republican Sens. Paul Bailey, Joseph Hensley and John Stevens sponsored this legislation as a response to a lack of school resource officers—law enforcement officers assigned to schools—in rural counties, they said. 

There’s just no research showing that arming teachers and increasing the number of guns in our schools is a way to prevent violence.

Kelly Drane, senior research director at Giffords Law Center

“There’s some counties where they may only have two deputies on a shift. It may take 20 or 30 minutes to get to that school. What havoc can be reaped in that 30-minute period. This bill tries to fix that problem and protect children,” Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Kingston, who voted in favor of the bill, said during floor discussions.

Researchers say there is little evidence for the efficacy of arming teachers. Kelly Drane, who lives in Tennessee and is the senior research director at Giffords Law Center, a nonprofit gun violence prevention organization, isn’t sold on the bill’s ability to protect children, saying many dangerous incidents have arisen from teachers carrying guns.

“There’s just no research showing that arming teachers and increasing the number of guns in our schools is a way to prevent violence,” Drane said. “Not only will this not protect our students, but I think children that are in Tennessee schools now are even less safe because there are a number of risks associated with arming teachers… I think the biggest risk is just that these guns may be accessed by students.” Some other risks Drane mentioned are the potential misuse of weapons by teachers and students’ ability to focus in an environment they feel less safe in. 

Some educators also question the logic. 

“Let’s just say a shooting does occur. It’s already frightful. And if I’m in a classroom and I have a handgun, how will that handgun help myself and 25 students, but the shooter has a rifle?” said Anntriniece Napper, the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association president and a former educator. Napper’s school district, along with a number of others, will not be implementing this policy, per local outlets.

According to the American Association of Pediatrics, firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the United States, with fatalities increasing 87 percent from 1,311 in 2011 to 2,590 in 2021. In its “State of the Child In Tennessee” report, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth found that firearms accounted for 1 in 4 deaths for youth, and the state ranked among the top 10 for highest youth homicides and youth homicides using a firearm. 

Firearms are now the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the United States.

Senate Bill 1325 allows school faculty and staff to carry a concealed handgun on school campuses so long as they are authorized to possess and carry firearms, receive approval from their district and school principal, pass a psychological evaluation, and complete 40 hours of basic training in school policing. It passed 26-5 in the state Senate on April 9 and 66-30 in the state House on April 23 and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Lee on April 26.

Tennessee joined Idaho, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming in permitting school employees to have firearms on K-12 school grounds, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures

Other Tennessee legislation on guns also became law this cycle: Senate Bill 7085, which provides free firearm locks and pushes for a public safety campaign on firearm storage; House Bill 2882, which, starting with the 2025-26 academic year, allows firearm safety instruction in schools; and Senate Bill 1657, which requires the Department of Health to collect data and submit an annual report on firearm injuries and deaths in the state by August 2025. 

Angela Ferrell-Zabala, a mother of four and the executive director of Moms Demand Action, a gun safety advocacy organization, expressed concern, frustration and anger over this SB 1325 becoming law. 

“Where is that firearm going to be kept? What about the children having access to this firearm? What if this firearm is used in other circumstances and not just responding to a shooting in a school and an active shooter? These are questions that have not been answered,” Ferrell-Zabala said. “It’s extremely frustrating to have to face this over and over again and not see action from our lawmakers, to not see the courage and compassion necessary to make the changes that will keep our students safe.” 

Ferrell-Zabala said Moms Demand Action volunteers in Tennessee were pushing for extreme risk protection orders and secure storage laws, not this.

Extreme risk protection orders temporarily restrict gun access for those at risk of harming themselves or others. According to polling from Vanderbilt University, 76 percent of Tennesseans are in favor of them. 

Some education policy experts like Weadé James, the senior director of K-12 policy at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, worry about the type of environment the new policy could create for students and that it could exacerbate the ongoing teacher shortage. 

We’re definitely going to keep showing up, keep on protesting, keep testifying, keep on trying to make our voices heard.


“They’re there to teach… and the expectation that they should be armed and that they should police in the school building is unfair. It’s unfair, and it’s psychologically harmful to those teachers,” James said. “I think it’s going to lead to more teachers deciding to leave the profession, either because they’re afraid for their own safety or they don’t believe in their children being taught in environments that policies such as this are creating.”

Despite starting her junior year advocating against SB 1325 at the special session in August and ending the school year with it ultimately becoming law in April, Cheko, who plans to become a lawyer, said she and her peers won’t be deterred. Some of them are turning 18 and will vote and protest, she said. 

“We’re definitely going to keep showing up, keep on protesting, keep testifying, keep on trying to make our voices heard, and whether that’s like fighting against this bill has already passed, or whether that’s trying to implement new legislation that we’ve been asking for, like secure storage laws and safer background checks.”

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Darreonna Davis a reporting fellow at The 19th. She previously covered breaking news and explainers for Forbes; climate and environmental justice for Inside Climate News; and culture, politics and HBCUs for Blavity U and Howard University publications, The Hilltop and 101 Magazine. She is from New Orleans and based in Memphis, Tennessee.