Tennessee schools may soon gain another defense against potential school shooters after the state Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to arm teachers and school staff.

Senators voted 26-5 to approve Sparta Republican Sen. Paul Bailey’s Senate Bill 1325 to allow specially trained school employees to carry concealed firearms on campus under certain conditions, according to The Tennessean.

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

The legislation follows a mandate from lawmakers that all of the state’s schools employ a school resource officer, and it’s intended as “another tool that can be used by those K-12 schools in the event that they’re not capable of hiring (a school resource officer),” Bailey said.

“If you’re from a rural district where resources are limited, you don’t have the ability to provide enough SROs for your community or an SRO at all, this would give you an opportunity to find a different pathway with training, fingerprints, mental evaluation,” Cookeville Republican Rep. Ryan Williams, sponsor of the House version of the bill, told WKRN.

SB 1325 requires staff who want to carry a concealed handgun on campus to undergo 40 hours of annual training at their own expense, pass a mental health evaluation and FBI background check, and gain approval from the school director and local law enforcement, essentially mimicking the requirements for SROs.

Tuesday’s approval came over the objections of Democrats, gun control activists, and some families from The Covenant School in Nashville, where a deranged 28-year-old transgender man killed three nine-year-olds and three adults in March 2023, MSNBC reports.

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

“We’re sending teachers to learn how to handle a combat situation that veteran law enforcement have trouble comprehending,” Democratic state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. “We’re letting people do that with a week’s training.”

Debate on the bill was repeatedly interrupted by about 200 gun control activists, including Covenant parents, before Lt Gov. Randy McNally R-Oak Ridge, ordered state troopers to clear the gallery. About two dozen initially refused to leave until they were threatened with arrest, according to The Tennessean.

Some opponents of the bill contend it will create anxiety in schools by not informing parents which teachers are carrying firearms. Others suggested teachers and other school staff couldn’t handle the responsibility, or that the bill could lead to accidental shootings.

“This is irresponsible. The public school teachers don’t even want the bill. They’re not even asking you for this,” said Memphis Democratic Sen. London Lamar. “We just passed legislation to have SROs in every school. Can’t we see how that works yet?”

Brink Fidler, founder of Defend Systems that trains SROs across the country, told WKRN “the spirit of the bill is right.

“I mean, I think what they’re trying to do is right,” he said. “I just think maybe some of the methodology by which we get there could use some improvement.”

Fidler pointed to requirements from the Tennessee School Resource Officers Association that show only eight of the 40 training hours deal with firearms, and he believes teachers armed in schools should focus more on active shooter threats.

“I would like to see that those 40 hours are spent specifically dealing with active threat, how we do rudimentary, how we’re clearing buildings; marksmanship, accuracy is obviously an issue inside a school where you’ve got a bunch of children,” he said.

Fidler also suggested amendments to the bill that could increase the firepower school staff would be authorized to use.

“If we’re arming these teachers, we’re asking them to deal with an active threat situation inside of a school, and in that situation, they need more than a small, concealable handgun, in my opinion,” he said.

The legislation now moves to the Tennessee House, where a companion version of the bill made it through committees last session but did not get a full vote. The legislation was placed on the calendar for April 17.

Crossville Republican Speaker Cameron Sexton told The Tennessean last week he believes the legislation is strong and well designed.

“I think it creates a path that someone will be well trained before they ever do (carry),” he said. “It’s not … like anybody can do it.”