Gun violence in Nashville — mayoral candidates respond to a WPLN listener’s question | #schoolsaftey

Edited by Cynthia AbramsWPLN News

Early balloting opens July 15, as Nashville voters head to the polls to elect the city’s next mayor. Choices are far from limited — with a field that rounds out to 12 candidates.

WPLN News solicited questions from our audience on the issues they are most concerned about. We’ve selected five that we presented to all candidates — on the topics of gun violence, affordable housing, public transportation, the environment and relations with the Tennessee General Assembly.

In the aftermath of the Covenant School shooting, many Nashvillians ramped up their calls for gun reform. Demonstrators gathered across Davidson County to urge Tennessee lawmakers to enact changes to the state’s gun laws. After they failed to do so, Gov. Bill Lee called a special session for later this summer to “strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights.”

The issue of gun violence remains on the minds of many Davidson County voters. One WPLN listener asked the question:

How are you going to protect our children at school?

A number of candidates expressed their support for common sense gun laws, with some promising to lean on their bully pulpit to encourage action at the state level. Others shared support for MNPD and proposed expanding the presence of school resource officers in schools.

Below are answers provided by the 10 candidates who wrote in response to WPLN News. Candidates were asked to limit their responses to around 200 words and are published in full. Responses are organized alphabetically.

Natisha Brooks

Courtesy Natisha Brooks

Natisha Brooks

Brooks is a former educator who operated a home school academy. She ran for congressional seats in Republican primaries in 2020 and 2022 and is a self-described “Christian conservative constitutionalist.” She says:

School protection: Receive appropriated monies from the state to fortify our school — classrooms, school entries, licensed security at all schools. Periodic safety drills will be done throughout the school year.

Sen. Heidi Campbell 

Courtesy Senator Heidi Campbell Facebook

Heidi Campbell

Campbell currently represents Tennessee’s 20th district in the state Senate. Earlier this year, she ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in the race for Tennessee’s recently redistricted 5th congressional district. She previously served as the mayor of Oak Hill, a small town in Davidson County that maintains its own municipal government. She says:

As a state senator, I’ve fielded an unprecedented number of calls, emails, and letters from my constituents and from people across the state demanding that we act. I sponsored a bill to allow a law enforcement officer or a family member to petition for a risk protection order to prevent someone who is a potential danger to themselves or others from obtaining a gun and have proposed several other pieces of legislation for the August special session. As your mayor, I will stand shoulder to shoulder with law enforcement officials and concerned citizens from across the state to demand action from the legislature on comprehensive common-sense gun reform. I will work with MNPD to ensure that future officers and first responders are as well trained as those who rushed into Covenant School this spring. I will also work with MNPS, state and federal officials to secure funding for safety enhancements, such as weapon detection and violence interruption programs at every Metro Nashville Public School. We must work with public safety experts to explore every option available to us, at all levels of government, to combat the gun violence crisis and make our schools, streets, and homes safer. There is not one simple solution to this problem, but there are many steps we can take to better protect our families from another senseless act of gun violence. This is personal to me, and I’m committed to making a difference however, and wherever we can.

Jim Gingrich

Courtesy Jim for Nashville Facebook

Jim Gingrich

Gingrich, the former Chief Operating Officer of Wall Street firm AllianceBernstein, retired to his post in 2020. He is not originally from Tennessee, but was part of the team who worked to move the asset management company’s headquarters to Nashville in 2018. He says:

No family or community should have to live through the nightmare. We must act now to improve security in all of our schools. We must ensure that we have sufficient wrap-around services in our schools and mental health services available to all adults. And, we must invest in common-sense solutions to gun violence at the local, state, and federal levels. We cannot continue to fail our children and grandchildren. As mayor, I will take on anyone who puts politics ahead of the safety of our children.

Councilmember Sharon Hurt

Courtesy Sharon Hurt campaign

Sharon Hurt

At-large Councilmember Sharon Hurt has served on the Metro Council since 2015. She worked with nonprofit Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnerships for 23 years, stepping down from her role as president and CEO in 2021. She says:

As a mother and grandmother, I will make it a priority to do everything in my power to guarantee our children can safely go to school. Community policing is key to achieving this. When I was growing up, the captain of the police lived a block away from me, and my mom would greet him every morning. That’s the type of relationship we need between the police and the neighborhood, so that our children can feel safe calling the police if they feel threatened by gun violence. As mayor, I will implement a community policing program that has proved successful in reducing violent crime in major cities like Baltimore. I will also strictly enforce red flag laws and background checks to make it impossible for those who are not mentally fit to own a gun, and I fully support a federal assault weapons ban. And while I cannot make any direct gun statutes from City Hall, I will not be afraid to use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office to speak out against the Tennessee General Assembly and fight for our children. I will be unapologetic and will not be silenced when it comes to gun reform because no one should have to lose their child to gun violence.

Stephanie Johnson

Courtesy Stephanie Johnson campaign

Stephanie Johnson

Johnson is the creative director of a skincare company and has also served in the Americorps Vista program and the Nashville Mayor’s Youth Summit Council. In 2019, she ran for the District 7 Metro Council seat. She says:

There should never be an “I” in any solutions we have for our community. Community problems call for community solutions. As someone who experienced the violence in Metro schools, I want to see a Zero Vision plan enacted. This plan would incorporate a father watch program in school, which has been used in other cities reducing fights in school to 100%. There was another school that extended school hours on Friday nights, and that year, not one child was killed in their city by gun violence. In addition, adding mediation to P.E. classes are also great methods. Lastly, ending ISS and coming up with better alternatives to address distributions from students, including training teachers on de-escalation methods.

Courtesy Freddie O’Connell

Freddie O’Connell

Councilmember Freddie O’Connell
Metro Councilmember and software architect O’Connell has represented District 19 since 2015. Before that, he chaired Metro Transit Authority’s board and led the Salemtown Neighbors Neighborhood Association and served on various other boards and committees. He says:

In 2016, our young people told us exactly how to keep them safe. Mayor Barry presided over a Youth Violence Summit coordinated by Lonnell Matthews. I was an active participant in this countywide initiative that solicited input from young people across the city to offer several priorities we still need to address: training and employment; meaningful youth engagement; health awareness and access; restorative justice and diversion; a safe environment and education. The voices of these young people and the work of this summit still matter. When I’m mayor, we’ll reinvest in this important work. We should also implement a Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) to bring together community stakeholders, social service providers, and law enforcement to focus on the places we already know crime is occurring. This approach has worked well in other cities to reduce gun violence. As mayor, I’ll also work to increase first responder salaries and fund school hardening initiatives. And I’ll work to build our capacity as second responders, including for areas experiencing trauma, so we can solve problems that lead to violence before it occurs and respond thoughtfully if it does. One of my most successful collaborations with Mayor Cooper was the work he led with John Buntin on creating community safety partnership funding opportunities that resulted in The Village. I will expand upon this work.

Courtesy Alice Rolli Twitter

Alice Rolli

Alice Rolli
Rolli served as campaign manager for Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander during his 2014 reelection bid. She also worked in the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development under Gov. Bill Haslam. She says:

Public safety and the safety of our school children is job one for the mayor. Both the tragic shooting at Covenant School and rising crime across our city means we’ve got to reset our approach to school safety. Schools today must have the same level of protection we give banks and other government buildings. The Rolli administration will take full advantage of our city’s share of the $140 million recently appropriated by the General Assembly and insist that we have a School Resource Officer at every Metro Nashville Public School — from elementary through high school. We will also take full advantage of the additional state funding now available to pay for these officers as well as available state funding to support security enhancements across all of our schools. This is important — both for protecting our kids but also our teachers. We must do everything in our power to ensure we are employing best practices to enhance security across all of our city’s schools.

Vivian Wilhoite

Courtesy Metro Nashville Government

Vivian Wilhoite

Wilhoite formerly served on the Metro Council, representing District 29 from 2003-2011. In 2016, she was elected as the Davidson County Property Assessor Race, and was re-elected in 2020. She says:

I believe that we have a gun addiction in our country, and we must encourage our state and federal leaders to act, particularly to establish age requirements and background checks to protect our children. I will use my voice as mayor to do just that and ensure that our schools are equipped with the latest in technology and resources for our children’s safety. Proactively, I will work with and support Chief Drake’s initiatives, District Attorney Glen Funk, Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway and community and faith-based leaders to help get to the root cause of the crime. This requires conversations in neighborhoods and schools where youth can have safe space to learn de-escalation. I will support programs that will allow weapons to be turned in without question. It takes all of this and more.

Matt Wiltshire

Courtesy Matt Wiltshire

Matt Wiltshire

Wiltshire previously worked for the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency. He says:

The Covenant School shooting was a truly horrific event that our community will feel the lasting effects from for years to come. As a parent of school-aged children, I’ll never forget the ache of fear and anxiety I felt for my own kids that day. I believe Nashville should have the very best public school system in America, but we cannot have the best schools if we don’t also have the safest schools. There are a number of specific ideas we must explore to make our schools safer and take on gun violence more broadly. First, I’ll work with MNPS leadership to implement the ‘Say Something’ program. This program is a critical tool to helping school and community leaders connect young people to help before a tragic incident happens. I’ll also work with MNPS, MNPD, and MNFD on improvements we can make to our physical infrastructure – one possible example being ballistic film for windows. More broadly we need to address gun violence in our community. We will invest in addressing the root causes of violence in our community. Those investments will include increased mental health resources and youth employment programs. I’ll work with MNPD to emphasize getting illegal guns off the streets, and we can work more closely with state and federal partners to accomplish this. Finally, I’ll use my bully pulpit and the office of the mayor to raise awareness around this issue and urge federal and state leaders to take action.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro

Courtesy Jeff Yarbro campaign

Jeff Yarbro

Yarbro has served as a Democratic state senator since 2014, representing District 21. He spent four years as the Senate minority leader, and also works as an attorney at Bass, Berry & Sims law firm. He says:

As a father of children who attend Nashville public schools, nothing is more important to me than keeping our kids safe. The tragedy at Covenant demonstrated we have work to do in keeping kids safe, and we need to act now to prevent these dangerous situations. This means creating comprehensive plans with school administrators, law enforcement, and other community leaders to make sure we are prepared to handle these crises.

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