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How the Nashville shooter was able to legally buy 7 guns

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The shooter who killed six people at the Covenant School in Nashville was armed with three guns, two semiautomatic weapons and a handgun. For years, gun control advocates in Tennessee have been calling for measures to prevent shootings like this. But instead, the state's conservative legislature has steadily chipped away at gun regulations. From member station WPLN in Nashville, Paige Pfleger reports.

PAIGE PFLEGER, BYLINE: The shooting happened on a Monday. And on Tuesday, Nashville parents like Becca Dryden had to face down their fears.

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BECCA DRYDEN: (Crying) I have an 8 1/2-year-old son, and I had to send him to school today. And it was terrifying.

PFLEGER: Her son is about the same age as the young victims. She was one of at least 100 activists calling on lawmakers for change in the wake of a deadly shooting that also claimed the lives of three school staffers.

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DRYDEN: (Crying) These are people that love our kids and that are doing more every day to keep our kids safe than the people here that are supposed to be working for us.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's right.

(APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: Dryden wiped away tears, standing in front of the Tennessee State Capitol.

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DRYDEN: I don't want to keep having this conversation.

PFLEGER: These activists hope the shooting is a tipping point that would force Tennessee's conservative lawmakers to tighten the gun laws they've systematically loosened for years. But Republicans control every major political office here, and they've used that power to make guns more easily available. Two years ago, permitless carry passed. Now, lawmakers want to lower the carrying age from 21 to 18. Already this year, they've moved to allow more guns in schools and college campuses. Democratic State Senator Heidi Campbell says that needs to end.

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HEIDI CAMPBELL: I don't care how much the NRA is paying people. I don't care how much they're pushing for everybody to be issued an AR-15 at birth. But for God sakes, we have to do something about it. What kind of a civilization does not defend their children?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: That's right.

(APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: In the case of the Nashville shooting, police say the perpetrator was being treated for a mental health disorder, yet bought seven guns, including assault-style rifles, legally. Police say the shooter's parents thought their child should not have access, but Tennessee does not have a law to request guns are removed temporarily, commonly known as a red flag law. Democratic lawmakers have introduced that in the past, but Republicans didn't pass it. In a video statement after the shooting, Republican Governor Bill Lee said that shouldn't be the focus.

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BILL LEE: There will come a time to discuss and debate policy, but this is not a time for hate or rage. That will not resolve or heal.

PFLEGER: Lee said he would act to prevent this from happening again. But in the past, that's meant safeguarding schools, not reforming gun laws.

RAFIAH MUHAMMAD-MCCORMICK: Tennessee has got their head in the sand.

PFLEGER: Back outside the Capitol, Rafiah Muhammad-McCormick says she's tired and angry.

MUHAMMAD-MCCORMICK: How many babies got to die? How many people got to die? How much blood do you have to see in the street to want to make a move to gun legislation?

PFLEGER: She knows the pain of losing a child. Her son was killed by gun violence. She pauses for a moment to wipe away tears.

MUHAMMAD-MCCORMICK: Prayer without action is not enough.

PFLEGER: It's a common refrain in a state that has high rates of gun violence, but very little political will for reform.

For NPR News, I'm Paige Pfleger in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Paige Pfleger