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Nashville mayor: Gun reform would be ‘challenging’ in Tennessee but needs to be raised

Mayor John Cooper spoke about the chances of changing any state gun laws in the wake of a shooting at a Nashville school that left seven people dead, including three children.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper said that instituting stricter gun laws would be "very challenging" in Tennessee, but he believes it "needs to be brought up" in the wake of a school shooting that left seven people dead, including three children.

Cooper spoke with Hoda Kotb on TODAY Tuesday, one day after authorities said three children and three staff members at The Covenant School in Nashville were killed by a 28-year-old gunman, who was later fatally shot by police.

Cooper was asked if it was possible for Tennessee to take a similar approach to tightening gun laws that Connecticut did in the aftermath of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

After 26 people were killed by a gunman, including 20 children, Connecticut passed universal background checks, expanded a ban on assault weapons and outlawed new high-capacity magazines. Since 2014, the state has had a 41% reduction in homicides, and recorded the sixth-lowest gun death rate in the country in 2020.

Hoda asked Cooper if something similar was possible in Tennessee, which has few restrictions on guns.

"I think it would be very challenging for Tennessee, but I think it needs to be brought up," Cooper said.

"And I think people need to understand that common sense reforms, which are not really onerous on gun ownership, does make a big difference. Gun safety and common sense regulations to kind of separate mental health challenges away from active gun ownership seem imperative."

The state has no waiting period between purchasing and receiving a firearm, and no license or permit is required to own or carry a handgun, open or concealed, if you are over 21, according to MSNBC.

State lawmakers are also pushing against the few remaining restrictions against gun ownership. Last week, the Tennessee State Senate passed a bill to codify an agreement into law that would make it legal for 18-year-olds to openly carry firearms.

"What’s happened is we’ve rolled back any common sense understandings about how these assault weapons in particular are managed in America," Cooper said. "And you end up with disasters and tragedies. And it’s not the diminishment of people’s rights — it’s how we live together in a society safely."

Gun culture in Tennessee is ingrained to the point where the Republican congressman for Nashville's district, Rep. Andy Ogles, sent out a Christmas card in 2021 that showed him, his wife and two of his three children all proudly holding rifles.

"I’m not on his Christmas card list, and I don’t think it’s appropriate," Cooper said of the card. "And I think the whole country can look at it and shudder a little bit and realize how inappropriate it is. Guns lead to tragedies, and whatever your political feelings are, we should not be celebrating the cult of the gun."

The gunfire at the Nashville school on March 27 marked the third school shooting of 2023, according to NBC News.

"I think this is the frustration by every city in the country, how this could keep happening in this volume," Cooper said. "In Tennessee, guns are essentially ubiquitous, and when guns and mental health issues come into contact with each other, you have big problems like we saw yesterday."

The gunman was identified by police as Audrey Hale, a former student at the school. Two of the children killed were 9 and the other one was 8, and three staff members in their 60s were also killed, police said.

"The country needs to pick itself up and say no to an assault weapons lobby that again is making it too available and too convenient and too first of mind for people to go out and commit terrible acts," Cooper said.