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Editor’s notebook: Arming as many Tennesseans as possible while mistreating mothers.

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Editor’s notebook: Arming as many Tennesseans as possible while mistreating mothers.

Apr 17, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By J. Holly McCall
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Editor’s notebook: Arming as many Tennesseans as possible while mistreating mothers.
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Women fill the Tennessee Senate gallery on April 9. 2024, shortly before being ejected by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Each year over the last decade, I’ve witnessed the Republican supermajority in the Tennessee Legislature increasingly degrade itself with malicious and callous treatment of Tennesseans. 

Many of you may think this year’s legislative session is not so bad solely because it doesn’t match the spectacle of 2023’s session, in which House members voted to expel two young Black lawmakers for reacting to a student-led protest for safe gun measures following a mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School. 

But nothing more exemplifies the depths to which GOP leaders have sunk than last week’s Senate passage of a measure allowing teachers to carry guns in schools, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s reaction to protests over the bill. 

Photographers, including the Lookout’s John Partipilo, documented Tennessee Highway Patrol officers removing women from the Senate gallery — at McNally’s direction — because the women hissed their disapproval of the move to arm teachers. 

Especially striking was the image by Nashville Scene photographer Kelsey Beyeler of state troopers surrounding and removing Linda McFadyen-Ketchum, a 77-year-old Nashville grandmother who has for decades been a pillar of the Middle Tennessee community. McFadyen-Ketchum became involved in efforts to oppose gun violence and an advocate for gun safety laws after a family friend was wounded during a 2008 mass shooting in a Knoxville church. 

Linda McFadden-Ketchum, a Nashville volunteer with Moms Demand Action, as Tennessee Highway Patrol officers remove her from the Tennessee Senate gallery on April 9. 2024. (Photo: Kelsey Beyeler/Nashville Scene.)
Linda McFadden-Ketchum, a Nashville volunteer with Moms Demand Action, as Tennessee Highway Patrol officers remove her from the Tennessee Senate gallery on April 9. 2024. (Photo: Kelsey Beyeler/Nashville Scene.)

Did the women — for with a few exceptions, protesters of Tennessee’s increasingly pro-gun legislature are women; mothers and grandmothers — raise their voices in protest? Yes. And why shouldn’t they have? For more than a year on an almost daily basis when the legislature has been in session, they have been holding individual and group meetings with lawmakers to share facts and statistics about gun violence and to plead for something, anything that could prevent future gun violence. 

Facts and statistics haven’t worked, so mothers whose children the Covenant School shooting have played to the emotions of legislators, testifying repeatedly about the trauma their children have suffered since a shooter stalked the private Christian school and killed three school administrators and three 9-year-olds. 

Nothing has made a dent in lawmakers’ seemingly unstoppable quest to ensure Tennessee leads the country in number of guns carried, so yes, the women in the Senate gallery on Tuesday made some noise. 

And for that, McNally had them expelled, in some cases dragged out by state troopers. 

McNally is a man who made his bones early in his legislative career by wearing a wire for the FBI to catch Democratic colleagues in corruption. That couldn’t have been easy, but McNally did the right thing. In the twilight of his career, he’s apparently forgotten his morals and folded, not strong enough to listen to righteous and fair criticism. 

And this is all before we address the absurdity of a measure to explicitly permit educators to carry guns. Tennessee passed a law in 2021 making it legal to carry a gun — either openly or concealed — without applying for permit, so it’s no surprise gun-crazed lawmakers think teachers should; rumors of this type of bill have circulated for several years. 

The bill would require any teacher who want to carry a weapon to undergo the training necessary to qualify for an “Enhanced Gun Carry Permit,” which includes an eight-hour handgun safety course or the option to provide proof of military handgun training or armed guard training. 

Practically speaking, I don’t expect that many teachers will take up this offer courtesy of the Tennessee General Assembly, for I’ve yet to meet the elementary school educator who signed up for reading, writing, ’rithmetic and Rugers. You can’t properly teach tots if you’re on high alert for a shootout.

Practicality is in no way a feature of the supermajority mindset. But getting guns into as many hands as possible while mistreating mothers? Now that’s a feature, not a bug. 

State troopers moved to eject spectators from the Tennessee Senate gallery after vocal protests against a measure to arm school teachers. From left: Kristen Guerrero, Alison Polidar and Rev. Ingrid McIntyre (Photo: John Partipilo)
State troopers moved to eject spectators from the Tennessee Senate gallery after vocal protests against a measure to arm school teachers. From left: Kristen Guerrero, Alison Polidar and Rev. Ingrid McIntyre (Photo: John Partipilo)