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A school bus / Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Tennessee Lawmakers Pass Bill Requiring Gun Safety Lessons in Schools

Public schools in the Volunteer State could soon begin teaching students firearms safety.

On Friday, Tennessee lawmakers put the finishing touches on House Bill 2882 following a party-line 24-3 vote in the state Senate. The bill would require all public schools in the state to include annual lessons involving “age-appropriate” and “grade-appropriate” instruction on gun safety starting in the 2025-26 school year. Mandatory topics would include safe firearm storage, school safety relating to firearms, how to avoid injury if a student finds a gun, instruction never to touch a found firearm, and immediately notify an adult if they see one.

“It is important for our young people to be aware of the proper precautions that should be taken if they encounter a firearm,” Tennessee House Representative Chris Todd (R.), the bill’s prime sponsor, told a local ABC affiliate. “This legislation will ensure students in Tennessee receive this valuable safety information during their school years as determined by leaders in education.”

The bill has now landed on Republican Governor Bill Lee’s desk. His office did not respond to a request for comment on what he plans to do with the legislation.

Its passage marks a significant win for advocates of school-based firearm training. While policies encouraging schools to incorporate gun-safety curricula have been around for years, the Tennessee measure would be one of the first to require it for public school students of nearly all ages.

Proponents of expanded gun safety training for children, including many gun-rights advocates, say it is an excellent way to reduce accidental shootings and foster responsible attitudes toward gun ownership from a young age. Recent empirical research has offered some support for those claims. A 2023 study from researchers with Ohio State University found that children aged 8 to 12 who viewed gun-safety videos were less likely to play with a gun and more likely to tell an adult in a controlled experiment than those who did not participate in gun-safety instruction.

“Children who had previously taken a gun safety course, had guns in the home, and had negative attitudes toward guns were less likely to engage in unsafe behavior around real guns,” authors Brad Bushman and Sophie Kjaervick concluded. “To encourage safe firearm behavior, children should be educated about gun safety.”

Opponents, however, have questioned the efficacy of existing children’s gun-safety programs, pointing to studies of their own. They also argued cracking down on adult gun owners would be a more effective strategy for reducing accidents.

“Children are already bearing an incredible brunt of the escalation that we’ve seen in gun violence – that is widely reported in our own state government’s data,” Tennessee Senator Jeff Yarbro (D.), one of three Democratic Senators to vote against the bill, told The Tennessean. “But rather than deal with the fact that there are firearms that are negligently and recklessly left somewhere by adults, we’re trying to teach children how to deal with that negligence.”

The text of HB 2882 tasks the Tennessee Department of Education, the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, and the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission with devising most of the gun-safety curriculum’s details. Most importantly, the bill would require those agencies to set the appropriate age and grade for when the required instruction would begin. The training would continue for students each year through grade 12, and parents would not be allowed to opt their children out of the instruction.

The legislation specifies that the training would be conducted in a classroom using videos and online content. Any instructional materials bearing a brand or organizational affiliation would be prohibited. It also bars the inclusion of “live ammunition, live fire, or live firearms” as part of the curriculum.

Lastly, the bill requires the state agencies to develop a curriculum that is “viewpoint neutral on political topics,” including gun rights, gun violence, and the Second Amendment.

“The bill also includes guidelines to make sure the curriculum remains strictly informative and not political in any nature,” Todd said. “This is an additional way we can help prevent injuries and increase safety across Tennessee.”

HB 2882 will take effect immediately if Governor Lee signs it into law.

In addition to passing school-based gun safety training, Tennessee lawmakers are also considering additional measures surrounding guns in schools this session. Senate Bill 1325 allows school staff to carry a concealed firearm on campus provided they pass a background check, complete a psychological evaluation, and perform 40 hours of firearms training each year. That measure cleared the state Senate on Tuesday on a 26-5 vote and now awaits action in the House. A similar measure failed last session.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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