In an unprecedented move in state history, Tennessee Republicans expelled one of three Democratic lawmakers who joined a public protest at the state capitol calling for gun control measures fired in the week after six people, including three children, were killed in a school shooting. in Nashville.
State House lawmakers voted 72 to 25 to impeach Rep. Justin Jones, who was among a trio of lawmakers who stood on the floor of the state House of Representatives, gave speeches and joined the chants of protesters in the House gallery last Thursday.
Ahead of his expulsion, Rep Jones defended his choice to join the protesters, saying he had been repeatedly denied the opportunity to speak on the House floor and nevertheless felt he needed to give a voice to his constituents.
“I was standing up for these young people, these young people many of whom are from my district, many of whom cannot even vote yet, many of whom are disenfranchised, all of whom are terrified of the continuing trend of mass shootings plaguing our state and plagues this nation,” he said in an impassioned speech on Thursday.
The Nashville Democrat also pushed back against criticism from Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton that the protest amounted to the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
“I was shocked to see the Speaker of the House condemning mothers, grandmothers and children and worried clergy, lying to them and saying they were insurgents,” Rep Jones said. “At no time was there violence. At no time did we encourage violence. In fact, what we were doing was calling for an end to the gun violence that terrorizes our children day in and day out. , and all we offer are moments of silence.
The GOP supermajority also voted Thursday on whether to expel Democratic Representatives Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson, the two other lawmakers who joined the ground protest.
Rep Johnson, a former school teacher, was able to cling to his seat, with Republicans losing one vote of the 66 needed to cement an eviction. Audible cheers were heard on the floor of the house as the decision was announced.
The Tennessee House is currently hearing a debate surrounding the latest member of the trio, Justin Pearson.
Fellow Democrats rallied in defense of the three representatives on the chopping block, calling the expulsions undemocratic because they silenced lawmakers and, by proxy, their constituents.
“I think it scares people in this room that he [Justin Jones] can speak to the people and speak for the people in a way that many of us in this room cannot. I urge you not to vote for expulsion. We need his voice,” said Bob Freeman, a Nashville Democrat. “We can’t silence these people.”
During the debate surrounding Mr Jones’ expulsion, Representative Gino Bulso, a Republican from Brentwood, defended the removal process, calling it an appropriate response to the “mutiny” that was the ground protest.
“What we are doing today is upholding our constitution,” he said. “We are protecting the integrity of this organ.”
Rep. Pearson, one of three who joined the protest, pointed to how former lawmakers had been expelled for criminal conduct like bribery and sexual assault, and said sending the trio of Democrats off the state house would be both undemocratic and racist.
“It is no coincidence that the two youngest black lawmakers in the state of Tennessee, and one of the two women, are on trial today,” he said. told CNN before the vote. “It’s not accidental. It’s what happened when you lose democracy.
Earlier in the day, the trio of Democrats were enthusiastically greeted outside the Capitol chamber by protesters demanding new gun laws after the Covenant shooting.
In the wake of the Nashville shooting, leaders and lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state government proposed massive new investments in school safety, including providing $140 million to put more armed police in public schools, but they refrained from limiting access to firearms. .
The Covenant School, where shooter Audrey Hale killed three students and three staff, is a private elementary school, and some teachers already carried guns there.
As The Independent reported, research suggests that armed police in schools do not prevent shootings from happening or from being more serious, and sometimes make things worse.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee suggested a potential openness to finding ways to remove access to firearms from dangerous people, but did not present any definitive proposals to that effect.
The state allows most residents 21 and older to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit, and GOP lawmakers are considering further easing gun access restrictions.