Last week, two Democratic politicians who led a gun control protest causing a disruption in legislative proceedings were expelled from the Tennessee statehouse.
Justin Jones was removed from the Tennessee statehouse in a 72-25 vote, while Justin Pearson was expelled in a 69-26 vote, in a rare decision by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
However, the expulsion vote against Gloria Johnson, a third Democratic lawmaker who also participated in the demonstration, did not pass.
Since a school shooting, hundreds of protesters have flooded the State Capitol.
On March 27, the Covenant School in Nashville was attacked, resulting in the deaths of six people, including three children.
According to Justin Jones, the decision has left one of the most diverse districts in the state without representation, affecting around 70,000 people. Jones stated this in an interview with the BBC.
Jones went on to say that an “extreme Republican supermajority, consisting almost entirely of a white caucus,” had expelled “the two youngest black lawmakers” for their demands for action on gun violence.
Mr. Jones also added that “the nation and the world should be shocked and surprised” as the decision indicates that democracy does not matter in Tennessee.
These expulsions mark the first time in modern history in Tennessee that such actions were taken without the support of both parties.
The lawmakers debated for hours on Thursday over the expulsion, and a resolution to remove Ms. Johnson fell just one vote short of the required two-thirds majority, with a margin of 65-30.
Her supporters in the chamber celebrated this outcome. Meanwhile, the statehouse was filled with protesters whose shouts could be heard audibly within the chamber.
Last Thursday, Mr. Jones and his two colleagues caused a disruption in the House proceedings by chanting “No action, no peace” and bringing the chamber to a standstill for nearly an hour.
Despite admitting to violating House rules by speaking without proper recognition, the three lawmakers asserted that their conduct did not warrant expulsion.
According to Republicans, the actions of the three lawmakers brought “disorder and dishonor” to the House.
On Thursday, certain Republican members asserted that the actions of the Democrats constituted an insurrection. House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who is also a Republican, drew a comparison between the incident and the Capitol Riots.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, stated that the Democrats’ actions on that day were comparable to, if not worse than, an insurrection in the State Capitol. He remarked, “What they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, to doing an insurrection in the State Capitol.”
The act of expelling members through votes is an exceptionally rare occurrence. In Tennessee’s House of Representatives, it has only happened twice in the past. In 1980, a sitting lawmaker was removed from office after being found guilty of soliciting a bribe. Similarly, in 2016, a majority whip was expelled from the House after facing allegations of sexual misconduct.
The expulsions of the two lawmakers in Tennessee were backed by significant support from members of both political parties.
Prior to the commencement of Thursday’s votes, members of the House engaged in discussions regarding more than 20 bills, including some that were centered around the topic of school safety.
During the discussion, Mr. Jones stood up multiple times to express his views, alleging that his fellow lawmakers were enacting “band-aid” measures in response to mass shootings.
Mr. Jones emphasized that passing legislation alone would not be sufficient to ensure the safety of students. He stated, “It is not action that will make our students safe. I think we, as elected officials, have a moral responsibility to listen to these young people who are on the frontlines who are terrified, who are here, crying and pleading for their lives.”
Republican Mark White, visibly agitated, retorted to Mr. Jones, “Look at me. Look at the other 97 lawmakers. This is exactly what we’re trying to do.”
Mr. White proceeded to add, “I have been up here for 14 years, and you have been in this assembly for two months, three months.”
Tennessee has some of the most permissive gun control laws in the United States. In 2021, the state enacted a measure that permits residents over the age of 21 to carry handguns, concealed or openly, without needing a permit.
There are efforts being made by lawmakers and pro-gun groups to decrease the age limit for carrying handguns without a permit in Tennessee to 18.
Tennessee does not have a system of universal background checks, nor does it have “red flag” laws that enable authorities to temporarily confiscate legally owned firearms from individuals deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others.
According to the police, the individual who carried out the shooting at the Christian school in Nashville last week had lawfully acquired seven firearms on different occasions.
Out of the seven firearms that the Nashville shooter had legally purchased, three of them were used to perpetrate the killing of three nine-year-old children and three staff members of the school.