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1 year after a school shooting, Nashville teens see their school change, but not laws


It's been a bit over a year since the shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. A former student killed three children and three staff members before being fatally shot by police. Since then, many students in the area have become activists for gun reform. But Magnolia McKay at member station WPLN reports that they have not made much progress.

MAGNOLIA MCKAY, BYLINE: In the days after the tragedy, thousands of students took part in a large school walkout to demand gun safety legislation. Sophie Kavalali was one of them. She says she showed up on the steps of the state Capitol again and again, making demands.

SOPHIE KAVALALI: We should have universal background checks. I think that we should be banning assault rifles completely. I don't think anybody should be owning an assault rifle. And I think that we need to really increase gun regulation and gun control within the state. Guns are killing people.

MCKAY: Governor Bill Lee called a special legislative session to address public safety right after the shooting. Students and parents kept up the pressure. But Tennessee lawmakers didn't pass any significant gun bills. Instead, they push for things demonstrators weren't asking for about human trafficking and juvenile sentencing. One year later, Kavalali is frustrated.

KAVALALI: Because I was making so many calls to elected representatives. And I was protesting so much. I was organizing so much. And I felt like that led to no genuine political action at the end.

MCKAY: Meanwhile, for many students, the school environment has changed. Funding has poured into programs, officers and equipment intended to increase security at schools across the state. To senior Israel Perez, the difference is jarring.

ISRAEL PEREZ: They implemented the system at our school. It was an automatic lockdown system, where the doors just shut and you hear a voice saying, lock down, lock down, get to somewhere safe.

MCKAY: Perez goes to Pearl-Cohn High, a public school in one of the most distressed ZIP codes in Nashville. He'd like to see lawmakers prioritize mental health screenings for prospective gun owners.

PEREZ: When it comes to guns and stuff like that, anyone could get it off the street, and there's no mental evaluation being checked. There's no support being given.

MCKAY: These young people have learned that even though they protest a lot and deliver clear demands, their representatives may not respond. So if lawmakers won't act, some teens, like 17-year-old Ryder Haje, focus on change that can be made outside the statehouse and in their own circles.

RYDER HAJE: I hope that people know that the most dangerous thing a kid can be is lonely. So I just want people to prioritize being there for each other and showing up. So that's what this entire thing has taught me, is that we need to be there for each other more than ever.

MCKAY: That community support has been present for these students during this week of difficult remembrances, even if they're gun reform demands continue to be ignored.

For NPR News in Nashville, I'm Magnolia McKay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHINGO SUZUKI'S "RED EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Magnolia McKay