Kids Are Dying While Tennessee Guv Goes After Drag Queens

·3 min read
John Bazemore/Associated Press
John Bazemore/Associated Press

In the name of protecting children, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed bills outlawing drag shows, banning “inappropriate” books, outlawing gender-affirming care for minors, and restricting school bathrooms to the gender a student is assigned at birth.

But for all his talk about shielding kids, Lee has done nothing about guns—even though they are the leading cause of death for children, both in his state and nationwide.

The latest fatalities in Tennessee include three nine-year-old students and three staff members at the Covenant School in Nashville. The killer was not a drag queen, but a 28-year-old woman named Audrey Hale. Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a press conference Monday afternoon that Hale was transgender. He also said Hale was armed with two assault rifles and a handgun.

After last year’s mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead, a group of gun control advocates and clergy arrayed stuffed animals, backpacks and flowers outside Lee’s office. They called for a ban on assault weapons and a repeal of the permitless carry bill that he signed in 2021.

"I have treated many victims of gun violence. I've seen firsthand how bullets tear holes through bodies, severing arteries, punching holes through lungs and hearts, and shattering bones," Dr. Katrina Green, an emergency room doctor, told the gathering.

Later that month, Lee issued Executive Order 97 as his own response to the Uvalde horror. The most notable provision was a call to keep school entrances locked. He also launched a “School Safety Toolkit for Tennessee Families.”

“As we continue our work to protect Tennessee children, the new School Safety Toolkit will provide parents with helpful resources and greater transparency to feel confident their child is safe at school,” Lee said.

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The toolkit offered advice about countering bullying and otherwise improving the school environment. It also provided “school safety in the palm of your hand” through Safe TN, an app described as “a secure, open door communications platform where you can send in tips and access useful resources to help keep your school and community safe.”

But guns were not even a consideration.

"We're not looking at gun restriction laws in my administration right now," Lee said.

In the meantime, just the possibility that Massachsetts might ban the manufacture of assault weapons had convinced the Smith & Wesson Company to move its longtime homebase from there to Tennessee.

“Our pro-business reputation, skilled workforce, and commitment to the Second Amendment make Tennessee an ideal location for firearms manufacturing,” Lee said when the move was announced in 2021.

An indication that the company had chosen the right home came with the Chrisitmas card sent out last year by U.S. Rep. Andy Ogeles, whose district encompasses The Covenant School. The card shows infamous resume embellisher Ogles, his wife, and two of their children brandishing assault rifles as they stand smiling before a Christmas tree.

Construction of the new Smith & Wesson facility in Maryville has commenced, and is expected to be completed late this year. Tennessee will then be producing assault weapons, not just recovering them from crime scenes such as Monday’s mass shooting.

The school entrance had been locked, but the killer simply shot it open. She continued firing as she ascended from the first to the second floor. She was herself killed by two police officers—good guys with guns—who arrived quickly on the scene. But that was not before six innocents were killed.

And if anybody was using the Safe TN app, it made no more difference than the rest of the executive order that Lee issued to make it look like he was doing something—when he was doing nothing at all about the biggest threat to kids.

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