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Protecting our gu–I mean, our children

As a native Nashvillian, watching Tennessee’s recent legislation from the vast corn and soy fields of Ohio has been shocking to say the least.

After coming to Miami University, I was surprised by the overwhelming attitude of acceptance and the push for inclusivity. Miami’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion inside and outside the four walls of the classroom was something I had never experienced before.

However, anti-DEI legislation in the state of Tennessee has reminded me that the inclusion and acceptance present at Miami stops at the Mason-Dixon line.

An anti-drag bill has been passed in my home state that prohibits “adult cabaret performances” on “public property” or where the performance “could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.”

But how did this bill even begin? In the past few years, a segment at Putnam County Library named Drag Queen Story Hour allowed drag queens to come read to children in an effort to “promote anti-bullying.” 

When I’ve discussed the reasoning behind the anti-drag bill with friends and family, they almost always cite Drag Queen Story Hour as the impetus for the bill. Both legislators and some citizens believe that introducing children to drag culture corrupts their innocence and leads them away from the traditional Christian values that permeate the South. 

What’s interesting about Drag Queen Story Hour is that it first garnered media attention in 2019. So why are we hearing about it now? Why is it being cited four years later as the catalyst for Tennessee’s anti-drag bill? 

Representatives are claiming to “protect” the children of Tennessee through anti-drag legislation, but it seems that protecting the children only goes so far. 

On March 27, 2023, a small private Christian school, The Covenant School, in Nashville experienced a mass shooting resulting in the deaths of three children and seven total casualties. 

Graphic by Eliana Riley

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Students Demand Action member Venus Harvey saw the Nashville shooting as a tragedy.

“Children shouldn’t be terrified to go to school,” Harvey said. “It’s ridiculous that this is our reality. It’s unbelievable.” 

Like Harvey, residents of Nashville are outraged and heartbroken, offering prayers and support to mourning families while looking woefully upon the state government and upon their federal representatives. 

Congressman Andy Ogles, who represents the district that is home to The Covenant School, released a statement describing his “heartbroken” attitude toward the “senseless act of violence” that took place at the school. This is the same representative that chose to feature firearms on his family’s Christmas card in 2021.

Senator Marsha Blackburn also released a bold statement on Twitter, which called for prayer for Covenant families and thankfulness toward first responders. Blackburn has benefitted from $1.3 million in National Rifle Association spending, and some Tennesseans were repulsed by her statement. Responses to the statement accuse Blackburn of having “blood on [her] hands” because she voted against a gun control bill in 2022.

The attitude of not caring is common among Tennessee state representatives. 

Republican Tennessee congressman Tim Burchett claimed that gun violence is a problem that “we’re not gonna fix” and that any action would “mess things up.” 

While Burchett might never have to worry about his homeschooled daughter experiencing gun violence, his apathy toward children in traditional schooling is shocking nonetheless. 

“For a lot of people to just not care, and to be like, ‘That’s just the way it is,’ or ‘We’re not going to do anything about it.’ It’s ridiculous,” Harvey said. “We can do stuff about it, and I think it’s important for the people that think, ‘Something should be done,’ to join. It’s one of the biggest challenges we’re facing … people just not listening and not caring.”

However, another complexity entered the scene when media outlets reported the Nashville shooter, Audrey Hale, to be transgender. Suddenly, politicians and citizens alike were pointing fingers at transgender people. Political podcaster Benny Johnson released a tweet describing the various shootings committed by people identifying as transgender. 

The correlation between transgender identity and gun violence is non-existent. The vast majority of mass shooters since 2009 have identified as cisgender.

If legislators genuinely cared about protecting their children from gun violence, they wouldn’t be focusing on the gender identities of mass shooters. Criminalizing certain gender identities does nothing to keep children safe. 

Harvey notes how this gender debate distracts from the core issue. 

“It’s not that cisgender people are more likely to commit shootings,” Harvey said. “It’s about the ease and accessibility of acquiring firearms.”

I have to agree with Harvey on this point. 

Nashville police reported that Hale acquired the guns used to carry out the mass shooting legally. In Tennessee, it’s not difficult to purchase nor carry a gun, and the state has no law regulating assault weapons

While Tennessee legislation is caught up in protecting children from the “evils” of drag shows and the transgender identity, children are suffering due to lack of gun regulations. Tennessee laws and policies regarding the ownership and use of guns in the state are barren. For instance, neither a background check nor permit is required to purchase a gun in Tennessee.

In Ohio, gun laws don’t stray far from those of Tennessee. Firearms do not require a permit to purchase, registration or licensure of owners. 

Now that adult cabaret performances are prohibited from taking place in a public area, guns have more rights in public than drag queens do. 

Clearly, Tennessee’s priorities in the protection of children are misaligned. The new bill passed by the Tennessee legislature is not meant to protect children. If Tennessee cared about its youth, creating stricter gun legislation would be the state’s first priority. 

The simple fact is that firearms can kill children and the act of dressing up in drag cannot. 

The fight in Tennessee over protecting children has never been about protecting children. It is about distracting citizens from real problems at hand and continuing the narrative of hypocrisy that plagues state politics. 

Protecting our children can only be achieved through policy based in reality, policy that acknowledges the problems with gun regulation and policy that is not subject to fear. 

Until then, Tennesseans will have to mourn the loss of their children at the expense of ensuring easy access to guns.