Tennessee's two Republican senators introduced legislation Thursday to provide $900 million in grants to harden school security, just days after a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville took the lives of three 9-year-olds and three adults.
The Securing Aid For Every (SAFE) School Act would send grants to public and private schools to fund school safety officer training for veterans and former law enforcement officers. The grants could also go toward physical reinforcements such as securing access to school entry points.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, one of the bill sponsors, said in a statement she hopes the funds would “help protect our precious children and secure our schools.”
Blackburn and fellow Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty, the other bill co-sponsor, both voted against last year's Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the gun control bill signed into law by President Joe Biden to improve school safety and expand mental health support for children.
At the time, Blackburn said in a social media post that while increased funding for school security and mental health support was a good thing, the measure was a way to "limit the 2nd Amendment." She said she voted against it "because Americans' constitutional right to keep & bear arms is not negotiable."
Hagerty similarly said in a statement that "Congress should consider what it can do to address the root causes of senseless massacres that our country has seen far too often, but that any bill that infringes upon the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens would not have my support."
He did not expand on the "root causes" at the time. Some Republicans, however, have previously blamed schools' failure to teach Judeo-Christian values and single-mother households without father figures as driving forces behind school gun violence and mass shootings.
Parties split once again
The latest tragedy, this time wrought upon a small private school connected to a church, has reignited the party-line debate that surfaces after mass shootings, with Democrat-led efforts to curb gun access on one side and Republican pushes to harden physical security on the other.
Alongside Hagerty and Blackburn’s proposal Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposed two bills that would repurpose federal emergency pandemic aid to harden schools and increase police presence on campuses.
Last May, the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas, took the lives of 24 children and teachers. That was the third deadliest school shooting on a school or college campus in U.S. history, and the second deadliest in a K-12 school. Monday's school shooting in Nashville had the most fatalities of any school shooting since Uvalde.
"And what is so infuriating is every time there is a mass shooting, Democrats in this chamber stand up and they don't actually want to do something to stop the murderers," said Cruz on the Senate floor Thursday. "Instead, they want another gun control bill to disarm law-abiding citizens that won't actually stop the murderers, that won't actually protect our kids."
Cruz also voted against the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last year, after his amendment to increase school campus surveillance and physical security was blocked.
On the left, meanwhile, Democrats blame Republicans for inaction and have renewed their push to ban assault weapons and pass other gun control measures.
In response to Cruz's new bill proposals, staunch gun control activist Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he has "very little interest in engaging on the merits of these proposals, because they are not serious attempts to make our kids safer," he said.
Murphy's state was home to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the deadliest K-12 school shooting in U.S. history that took the lives of 26 in 2012.
Referring to Monday's school shooting in Nashville, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., said, "There are six people that are dead in that school because you guys [Republicans] got rid of the assault weapons ban."
Addressing Republicans during a Wednesday hearing before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Moskowitz added, “Because you guys made it easy for people who don’t deserve to have weapons, who are mentally incapable of having weapons of war, being able to buy those weapons and go into schools." Moskowitz’s home state of Florida is where the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting took place.
President Joe Biden also called on Congress to act after Monday's shooting, saying he's exhausted his executive authority and can't ban assault weapons without congressional support.
"Republicans in Congress need to show some courage. And if they had courage, they would be introducing legislation … on banning assault weapons today," said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, on Wednesday.
Shootings continue steady rise
Still, the debate over hardened school security or gun control measures such as assault weapon bans and red flag laws continues as mass shootings multiply.
The number of mass shootings increased from 383 in 2016 to 647 in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive. In just the first three months of 2023, the country has seen 130 mass shootings.
The stalemate debate also comes as gun violence on school grounds increases overall.
According to the K-12 School Shooting Database, school shootings have skyrocketed 163% since 2020 and 1,900% since 2010.
A majority of school shootings are a result of escalated disputes, and school shooters are most likely to be students or former students. That was also the case in Nashville, where the alleged shooter was a former student.