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One Dead; Officer Injured in Tennessee School Shooting as State Eyes Tougher Penalties

'The issues with violence are happening in the community, and it’s affecting kids when they’re outside of the school...'

(Headline USA) A shooting at a Tennessee high school killed one person and wounded a police officer just before the bell rang Monday, coming as the community reels from off-campus gun violence that has left three students dead this year.

No one else was hurt at Austin–East Magnet High School in Knoxville, a city about 180 miles east of Nashville, police said in a statement. One person has been detained.

Police said they responded to reports of a possible gunman in the school around 3:15 p.m.

“Upon approach of the subject, shots were fired,” Knoxville Police Department posted on Facebook. An “officer was struck at least one time.”

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The post said a male died at the school, but authorities did not release any more information on the victim.

Speaking outside a hospital, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon told WATE-TV that she spoke with the wounded officer and he was conscious and in good spirits.

Kincannon, the mayor who’s a former Knox County Schools board president, spoke at a February press conference about the gun violence that took the lives of three Austin–East students less than three weeks apart this year. Two of the victims were 15, and the other was 16.

“I know that school is a safe place,” Kincannon said at that time, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It’s a place where people are learning. … The issues with violence are happening in the community, and it’s affecting kids when they’re outside of the school. That’s why we are focusing our efforts to protect the innocent, protect the school, protect the children and students and staff.”

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The newspaper reported that the school was adding three school resource officers and stepping up patrols around dismissal time.

The first major school shooting of the Biden administration came amid a recent uptick in mass-shooting events after a historic low in former president Donald Trump’s final year in office.

As with the Biden administration’s border surge, it was unclear to what extent Biden’s rhetoric and policies were encouraging the increase. Several of the recent shooters have appeared to be sympathetic to left-wing policies if not overtly political.

Despite Biden’s promises to reopen schools quickly, many remain closed due to pandemic lockdown restrictions. But in Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Lee has been pushing since January for schools in his state to reopen sooner than later.

Knox County Schools restarted in-person learning in January, but Austin-East Magnet High School went back to virtual instruction briefly in February after the spate of shooting deaths of students. The school will be closed again Tuesday and Wednesday.

Amid the surge in shootings, President Biden has signaled his intention to assert tighter gun restrictions, including universal background checks, by executive order if necessary. But some red states have moved to declare themselves sanctuary states in response.

As is often the case in tragic events, Democrats quickly pounced on the occasion to exploit people’s raw emotional condition in service of their long-term agenda of persuading Americans to give up their Second Amendment rights.

State Rep. Sam McKenzie, who represents the district and went to the school, said in a statement, “I am at a loss to describe my sadness as yet another horrific act of gun violence has happened in my community,” urging people to “reclaim the sanctity of our beloved neighborhood.”

“This is the fourth unnecessary shooting involving the Austin East community this year and we must make sure we take every step and make every effort to prevent these tragedies from continuing to occur,” McKenzie’s statement said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said it has taken charge of the investigation.

Lee mentioned the shooting at a Monday news conference but said he had little information.

“I just wanted to make reference to that and ask, for those who are watching, online or otherwise, to pray for that situation and for the families and the victims that might be affected by that in our state,” he said.

Last week, the Republican governor signed legislation that will make Tennessee the latest state to allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns—openly or concealed—without first clearing a background check and training.

Lee backed the legislation over objections from law enforcement groups, who argued that the state’s existing permit system provided an important safeguard for knowing who should or shouldn’t be carrying a gun.

When asked earlier this year whether recent mass shootings in Georgia, Colorado and others gave him any concern about timing, Lee said the increased penalties mean that “we in fact will be strengthening laws that would help prevent gun crimes in the future.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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