Tennessee sheriffs urging citizens to arm themselves. We think that’s a bad idea. Here’s why:

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Like gun violence prevention advocates around the country, we at The Safe Tennessee Project are concerned about sheriffs encouraging citizens to arm themselves to thwart a possible terrorist attack.

Permit holders in Tennessee undergo an 8 hour class to get their permit. Part of the class is spent on basic gun safety and part is spent on the range. Compare that to 120+ hours of training that Metro Nashville Police Officers undergo – and the continuing education and yearly certification requirements they must fulfill. Topics covered include: shoot and don’t shoot scenarios, how to clear a room, and escalate and de-escalate scenarios. Police officers also undergo “active shooter” training specifically designed to train officers for the extraordinarily dangerous possibility of a heavily armed shooter in a public, populated place. This training is conducted by experts, experienced and well-trained in managing active shooter events.

And, even with all of that training, police officers still make mistakes. In high stress situations when the adrenaline is pumping, even trained professionals sometimes shoot when they shouldn’t shoot.

Although Tennessee requires the 8 hour class, other states have less stringent requirements. Some states offer permit training online and do not require any time on the range. Because Tennessee has a reciprocity agreement with most states, some legal permit holders in our state were never required to even demonstrate basic shooting skills in order to carry guns in public places.

In our opinion, an 8-hour class or an online class with no shooting requirement, simply are in no way equal to the extensive training that our law enforcement officers undergo.

In a story earlier this fall, a WBIR reporter participated in permit training. She then took her newly acquired skills to the Blount County Sheriff’s Office training simulator to see what would happen when she was faced with high stress, life-threatening situations. In two simulations, she would have gotten shot. In another, she killed a civilian.

Meanwhile, groups like The Tennessee Firearms Association continue to push for “constitutional carry” which would essentially eliminate gun permits, meaning anyone with a gun could carry it, open or concealed, without any requirement for training.

Like all Americans, we have concerns about terrorists and mass shootings. However, statistically, mass shootings are rare. What’s becoming increasingly common, especially in Tennessee, are children being injured and killed as a result of negligent firearm storage. To date in Tennessee, there have been 10 children killed because an adult chose to leave loaded guns where children had access to them. Some were toddlers and some were teenagers who were knowledgable about guns and who should have known better. At least two were children of law enforcement officers. We track unintentional shootings of both adults and children in Tennessee on our website.

Where is the concern about these deaths? How could more guns in public places address the epidemic of our children dying senselessly due to negligent firearm storage? With so many of our youngest Tennesseans dying in this way, perhaps we should be less focused on arming more people to fight terrorists and more focused on educating gun owners on safe and responsible storage of firearms.

Lastly, although we have tremendous respect for all members of law enforcement – sheriffs, sheriffs’ deputies, military police, university police, and city police officers, it’s important to note that sheriffs are elected or appointed positions. Like any elected politician, they are concerned about being re-elected. We believe that turning a public health crisis into a political talking point benefits no one and deflects the conversation away from real, evidenced-based approaches to reducing gun violence. Numerous peer-reviewed, academic studies provide evidence showing that more guns don’t make us safer– in fact, states with looser gun laws see more gun violence in the form of homicide, suicide, domestic violence, and unintentional shootings.

Additional research/studies/opinion pieces addressing the “more guns make us safer” myth: