Some Tennessee GOP leaders back Trump’s gun control push

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Some Tennessee Senate leaders have come out in support of President Donald Trump’s push to ban bump stocks and bar those under 21 from buying semi-automatic rifles, and want additional discussion at the state level. But support from the state House’s Republican leadership has been more tepid.

On Thursday, Senate Speaker Randy McNally and Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron said they support those two gun limitations, which Trump has encouraged in the aftermath of a Florida school shooting this month that killed 17 people. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said he wants the issues discussed in the statehouse during the ongoing legislative session.

“I think the president is headed in the right direction,” McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, told reporters Thursday.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam likewise believes that both proposals should be considered, said his spokeswoman, Kate Derrick.

Trump’s gun proposals have drawn mixed reviews. The National Rifle Association, an influential force with state and federal elected officials, opposes raising the age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles.

After the Las Vegas concert shooting that killed 58 people last year, the NRA called for reviewing and further regulating bump stocks, which the shooter used to make semi-automatic rifles mimic machine guns. But the group stopped short of calling for a ban on their sale.

In the Tennessee House, Speaker Beth Harwell said Trump’s support of a bump stock ban makes it more high profile and gives it more credibility, but she said she needs to study the issue further. She didn’t take a stance on raising the age for semi-automatic rifles.

House Majority Leader Glen Casada and Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams likewise didn’t take a hard position on the two issues.

“We appreciate President Trump’s efforts at the federal level on this important issue and are open to hearing more about his ideas and having meaningful discussions here in Tennessee,” the two Republicans said in a statement. “We are committed to upholding current laws that help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who suffer from mental illness. At the same time, we must do all we can in order to protect the Second Amendment rights of our law-abiding citizens.”

In line with Trump’s idea to arm more teachers, Tennessee Senate Republican leaders expressed interest in making it less burdensome for teachers to carry guns under existing state law. A 2013 law lets school districts choose if they want to let teachers with handgun carry permits to bring guns into schools. But they must be trained by the state Peace Officer Standards Training Commission, or POST, which trains police officers.

Ketron said lawmakers could consider legislation to let a third-party group perform the training, since POST training can be prohibitively expensive.

“You can probably count on two hands the ones that are POST-certified as teachers,” the Murfreesboro senator said.

Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee aren’t in favor of arming more teachers in schools, saying it assumes more shootings are inevitable and burdens teachers with an unwanted, grave responsibility. But Democrats who have long called for gun control action see some middle ground with Republicans.

Rep. Dwayne Thompson, a Cordova Democrat, has legislation to ban bump stocks. He said he’s willing to amend it to instead require them to be registered; limit use to only within licensed shooting ranges; and bar people who have been convicted of a violent crime from buying them.

“We’re looking for any areas where we can get compromise and get something passed that is actually going to make a difference for kids,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville.

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