Who should be talking about guns?

Tennessee kids and lawmakers debate gun control


Rick Weiss

4/10/20246 min read


Last year on March,27 a horrific shooting took place at the Covenant School, a private Christian elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Gov. Bill Lee followed up on a push from April 2032 to address school safety. His family had lost two close friends at the Nashville Covenant School mass shooting in March. The Republican governor who was endorsed by the NRA in 2018, got broad support from lawmakers when he called for mental health investment and more security in Tennessee schools. But when the governor called for a more expansive red flag law, an order of protection that could temporarily restrict a dangerous individuals' access to firearms, the Tennessee House of Representatives shut him down cold. Governor Lee said at the time, "we owe Tennesseans a vote." They didn’t get one.


“You Can’t Expel Our Voice!”

Adding insult to injury, State Representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, two of the “Tennessee Three,” were expelled from their legislative seats for violating decorum and adding their voices in a gun control protest on the State House floor. The expelled lawmakers had to be reseated by their own constituents in a special vote.

At willyouhearmenow.com we believe it’s important for political leaders to listen to advocates, victims and survivors and say, “I may not entirely agree with you, but I will sit down respectfully and hear you out.” When it comes to gun sense, that doesn’t happen in Tennessee and in fact, in many of these United States. And that’s what has to change.

When the Tennessee state legislature gaveled in at the beginning of 2024, Governor Lee’s extreme risk protection order law was missing in action. But Tennessee Moms Demand Action was there. Last year, this organization and families of Covenant victims had been barred from even witnessing proceedings from the public gallery. They are not letting up. Since the shooting, Everytown along with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers, have continuously called on Tennessee leaders to not weaken the state’s gun laws, rather to find common ground on policies like an Extreme Risk law. According to the organization:

"Tennessee currently has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the United States and some of the weakest gun laws in the country. An Extreme Risk law may have prevented the shooting at the Covenant School and saved six lives. Twenty-one states — including Indiana and Florida — have already passed an Extreme Risk law. Guns are the number one killer of children and teens in the U.S. and in Tennessee."

It wasn’t just activist adults who were making waves in January’s legislative session. Eight high school students talked about their personal experiences and demanded that Tennessee lawmakers pass gun control legislation.

“I call on every Tennessee state legislator to use their power to protect the lives of Tennesseans rather than their own self-interest.” School no longer felt safe. The locked doors; the effort to keep students out of the hall; and, of course, the regular active shooter drills all served as reminders that I was putting my life on the line just by being there”

Sarayah Shaw, Student, Hume Fogg High School

“I am scared’ my friends are scared; my family is scared; my generation is scared.”
17-year-old Jennie Li

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. We face a problem that no one seems to find solutions for. People may not be able to find solutions because they can’t imagine the impact it has on others’ lives.”

16-year-old Kelvin Graves

The response from Republican lawmakers was as predictable as it was tone deaf.

“As far as Tennessee doing something to limit guns, we’re not going to do that. We believe in the Second Amendment, and we believe that our Constitution was written correctly. We’re not going to take guns from people.

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), TN House Republican Caucus Chair

Unsurprisingly, other Republican lawmakers are reviving a bill from special session that would allow people to carry guns in schools.

One month later Nashville was rocked by another school shooting on February 9th of this year. And while no students of Meigs Magnet School directly witnessed the shooting, two of the school’s 7th graders (Emmy and Esther) found a voice and a potential ally in their governor. They hand-wrote a 3 page, double-spaced letter, spelling out their concerns and the actions they wished to see taken. (Video at the link.)

“Dear Governor Lee, we are 7th-grade students at Meigs Academic Magnet, who are concerned about gun violence in the Nashville community.”

In the video, State Rep. Aftyn Behn (D-Nashville) read a letter she received from the two girls who live in her district and asked that she pass along the letter to Gov. Bill Lee himself.

State Rep. Aftyn Behn (D-Nashville) read a letter she received
State Rep. Aftyn Behn (D-Nashville) read a letter she received
“Expect to receive more letters, until you act on gun safety."

Emmy + Esther”

Representative Behn sent the letter along to Lee and got confirmation that his office received it. Her frustration was evident when referring to her legislative colleagues who are actually floating a bill to make ALL FIREARMS, INCLUDING ASSAULT RIFLES, open carry in Tennessee. She spoke in emotional terms about “the next generation of young leaders who care so deeply, who don’t care about the politics and just want to do the right thing.”

Democrat Rep John Ray Clemens had only one word in response to this proposed legislation:

Rep John Ray Clemens
Rep John Ray Clemens

When Bill Lee called for a general session in the aftermath of the Covenant shooting last year, he addressed the need to "increase public safety while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners." He spoke with passion when he said they owed Tennesseans a vote. The Republican leaders spoke this month about their need to “maintain people’s rights to bear firearms while improving public safety.” For them, public safety is clearly a distant second.

This flipped order of their priorities speaks volumes. Perhaps losing people who were close to him or thinking about his own grandchildren knocked a chink in Bill Lee’s Second Amendment armor. As for the Tennessee HR majority and the tone deaf people who’d scoff at Emmy and Esther, yes, they’re only in 7th grade, but they’ll be writing more letters and they’re only half a dozen years at most from casting their first vote.

Here at willyouhearmenow.com we believe that young people should be heard and respected whether they’re years or months away from casting their vote. We seek to amplify their voices in the halls of power, while lawmakers who ignore or diminish the concerns of their young constituents do so at peril to their own careers.

To learn more about “Will You Hear Me Now?” email us at wyhmnblog@willyouhearmenow.com. To help us with post-production and distribution of our upcoming film, please visit our GoFundMe and give what you can. To stay on top of our project in real time, check back here often. Follow us on Facebook and on Twitter/X at https://twitter.com/willyouhearme1. We’ve just added a change.org petition to help us drive traffic and amplify the voices of students, who, though too young to vote, need to make their voices and concerns heard. You can find that petition here or scan the QR code to go to the site and sign up.

Here's where it gets really interesting.

OPED update:
We'll continue to follow this story. TN Rep Justin Pearson on CNN:

“I know the primary reason he’s still alive is that his teacher — under extreme duress — was able to follow her training to lock the classroom door, pull down the shades, shepherd the children to the safe corner of the room and be there with them, helping them to follow her breathing and to stay silent so the Nashville police officers could do their work.”
Beth Gebhard

Beth knows that guns belong in the hands of trained professionals who are best equipped to meet the threat posed by a gunman. Putting firearms into the hands of classroom teachers and administrators every day is simply asking for more heartache and tragedy."