JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — After three children and three adults were killed at a private Christian school in Nashville, lawmakers and advocates are considering their next steps.
“We end up at ‘how do we stop it? What do we do?'” state Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) told News Channel 11.
Campbell identified further funding for mental health services as a place to start, but Johnson City pediatric psychologist and professor Jodi Polaha says mental health funding isn’t enough.
“As a mental health provider, I absolutely feel like more funding for mental health treatment and research can be really helpful, and I would welcome that,” Polaha said. “But I definitely don’t see it as a singular solution.”
Polaha said state lawmakers should push for gun control, including an assault weapons ban.
“Tennessee has some of the weakest gun laws in the nation, and so, not surprisingly, is the 12 worst state for gun violence and deaths by guns,” Polaha said. “That kind of empirical data on the relationship between gun violence and gun laws has been shown for decades.”
Polaha isn’t alone. Jessica Joyner, a teacher in Johnson City Schools and volunteer with the national gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action said access to firearms is too easy in the state.
“In Tennessee, there’s growing concern that we’re always rolling back gun laws to make it easier and easier for people to get their hands on guns,” said Joyner.
Some local lawmakers don’t agree with Joyner.
“I have never seen actually, gun control bills that work,” said state Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport), referencing his years in law enforcement.
He said school security should be the top priority when trying to prevent future school shootings.
“I honestly believe that’s the answer, making the school hard enough that nobody can get in,” said Hulsey. “Make sure you have SROs in there that are qualified to deal with anything that would try.”
Both Hulsey and Campbell expressed support for a school safety bill that is currently in committee. It would require local education agencies to provide floor plans and safety plans to the Department of Education and local law enforcement agencies.
Joyner encouraged parents to listen to their children’s worries and point out that schools have plans in place for potential threats.
“Try and get focus on what we can control and let go of what we can’t control is important,” said Joyner.
She added that students can reach out to their legislators as well as adults.
“I mean, legislators have not been in the classroom recently, and they don’t know what that feels like,” said Joyner. “I would definitely encourage (students) to use their voice. It’s powerful.”