Noah Neumann, 6, is comforted by his Covenant mother as families engage in a prayer service leading up to a special session of the state legislature before a news conference at the state capitol, Thursday, July 20, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
By Kimberlee Kruesi | Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Pausing at the microphone, 6-year-old Noah took a breath and softly stated, “I don’t want any guns today or any day in my school.”
His mom, Sarah Shoop Neumann, wiped away tears as she held the young boy. It had been more than four months since a shooter indiscriminately opened fire while Noah was at a private elementary school in Nashville, killing three of his schoolmates and three adults. And Neumann wanted action.
Joining a group of families from The Covenant School, Neumann and others on Thursday announced that they had created two nonprofits to not only promote school safety and mental health resources, but also form an action fund to push legislative policy changes that would place certain limits on firearms inside the politically ruby red state of Tennessee.
“We can create brighter tomorrows for our state so no other community has to endure the suffering,” Neumann told reporters at a news conference. “And our children can go to school without fear.”
The group’s announcement is the latest development in the ongoing tension over whether Republican-dominant Tennessee will pass meaningful legislation in response to The Covenant School shooting. While gun control advocates have pushed for stricter regulations on firearms for years, these families are hoping to make greater strides with conservative lawmakers by using commonalities in their faith and, for some, their political backgrounds, while stressing the need to prevent future tragedies.
Over the next few weeks, parents will meet at the state Capitol building every day to pray and meet with lawmakers.
“As a native Tennessean and a gun owner, I think it’s important to emphasize we are proponents of responsible gun ownership,” said Melissa Alexander, a Covenant parent. “However, I think it’s important to intervene when there are clear signs that something is wrong.”
The creation of the political advocacy fund helps clear the way for families to lobby lawmakers on their policy positions and collect donations. Yet the parents maintain that they have no plans to meddle with state elections or endorse any particular candidates. The group says they are in favor of removing guns from people who are danger to themselves or others, as well as strengthening firearm storage regulations and tightening background checks.
So far, GOP lawmakers have overwhelmingly resisted calls made by Republican Gov. Bill Lee to pass legislation that would keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others. The Legislature initially rebuffed Lee’s attempt to pass the legislation in the spring, forcing the governor to since declare that he’ll call a special legislative session to take place in August for members to once again consider his proposal and others.
Instead, the Republican supermajority has largely argued for the need to add more security to school buildings, and many have vowed to spike any proposals that would mimic so-called “red flag” laws that other states have passed in the wake of school shootings.
Lee has maintained that his proposal is not a red flag law, which he describes as a “toxic political label.”
To date, 19 states have red flag laws on the books — with many lawmakers enacting them after tragedies. Notably, Florida did so after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 students. Law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints about the 19-year-old gunman’s threatening statements.
Under Lee’s proposal, law enforcement would first determine if a person is a threat, then a hearing with the person in question would be held, generally within three to five days. A judge would rule whether they should indeed have their weapons taken away temporarily. If so, the person would have to surrender their guns and ammunition to a third party within two days and any handgun carry license would be suspended within three business days. The actions would last up to 180 days at a time.
The special session is scheduled to start Aug. 21.