‘Lawmakers have a duty to act’: Leaders Akbari, Camper stay focused on gun safety reform

by Sen. Raumesh Akbari and Rep. Karen Camper

Tennessee Senate Democrats
4 min readMay 2, 2023

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Families are reeling from the tragedy that unfolded in late March at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., where six people, including three children, were murdered in a 15-minute storm of gunfire from a person who should not have had a gun.

The Tennessee General Assembly was called once more to confront the painful reality of gun violence in our state and, again, the supermajority failed to deliver anything but thoughts and prayers.

In fact, a mother, whose 9-year-old daughter was murdered in the Covenant massacre, watched from the Tennessee Senate balcony as Republican members blocked the final gun safety bill of the year.

Despite pleas for reform from thousands of students, families and even Tennessee’s conservative governor, the Republicans in charge at the statehouse ended this year’s legislative session without doing any work to prevent future gun violence.

They refused to even allow a debate.

That’s an immoral failure of leadership.

Perhaps members of the majority party are so captured by extremists and gun industry lobbyists, they don’t want to do the work voters hired them to do. Maybe they think they can leave the capital and the people who protested for change will forget why they were marching.

THE PEOPLE ENDORSE REFORM

Whether it was students walking out of school to protest or grieving parents meeting one-on-one with lawmakers, the people showed up throughout April and made their priorities clear. They want action to prevent gun violence and they will keep coming back until this legislature prioritizes children and families over firearms.

Public polling confirms it. This month, the nonpartisan Voices for a Safer Tennessee, which came together following the Covenant school shooting, released the results of a public opinion survey conducted by a pollster who counts Donald Trump among their clients.

The survey showed that Tennessee voters overwhelmingly support common sense gun safety policies, like risk protection orders, universal background checks, and waiting periods. Surprising to some, support was highest amongst voters who own guns.

Just like the heartbroken Covenant families, Tennesseans all across this state know all too well the devastating consequences of gun violence. Every day, families are torn apart by the senseless deaths of their loved ones.

Lawmakers have a duty to act. The General Assembly is not some hapless bystander. We cannot sit idly by and allow this cycle of violence to continue.

So as we mourn innocent lives lost to gun violence, the legislature must also take action to prevent future tragedies.

We can and we must do more to protect our communities and ensure that our children can grow up without fear of gun violence.

SPECIAL SESSION ON GUN SAFETY

There will soon be one more chance this year for lawmakers to come together and take a stand against gun violence.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says he will call a special session to focus solely on public safety. He has proposed a measure that would give law enforcement the power to remove weapons from a person who is a verifiable threat to themselves or others.

While this would be a step in the right direction, it should not be the only reform we act on.

As we look to the future, we should begin work on comprehensive reform that addresses the root causes of gun violence and prevents dangerous individuals from obtaining firearms in the first place.

We must also address the toxic gun culture that glorifies violence and perpetuates the notion that guns are the solution to all of our problems. We need to change the conversation around guns and shift the focus to responsibility, non-violent conflict resolution and community building.

We must come together as Tennesseans and demand action from our elected officials. We must also hold them accountable for their inaction on this critical issue.

Change will not come overnight. It will take time, effort, and dedication from all of us to make a difference.

But we cannot afford to wait for next school shooting to occur. We must act now to prevent future gun violence.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

We cannot remain silent about gun violence any longer. We must speak out, take action, and work together to create a safer, more just society for all.

We owe it to the victims of The Covenant School shooting, to the people of Tennessee, and to all those who have lost their lives to gun violence in our state. Let us honor them by taking action today.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, is the Tennessee Senate minority leader. Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, is the Tennessee House minority leader.

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Tennessee Senate Democrats

Fighting for everyday people in the Tennessee General Assembly