Mary Joyce told herself she would be kind, just as she always had been. Say enough, but not too much, she reminded herself, the New York Times reports. Surely, the members of the Tennessee General Assembly before her would be moved by her testimony at a special session dedicated to public safety. She would remind them how an assailant wielding powerful rifles killed three of her daughter’s third-grade classmates, a beloved custodian and a substitute teacher, and the head of the Covenant School, private Christian school in a wealthy neighborhood of Nashville . What she wanted now were modest measures that she believed could have prevented the violence and still be accepted by other Republicans. Joyce and other Covenant parents felt they stood a better chance than anyone at cutting through the divisions on gun control. Among them were former Republican aides, gun owners and lifelong conservatives who could afford to spend days at the legislature.
Several parents understood that, for many, the right to bear arms, without any caveat, was an intrinsic piece of American identity. They knew this was particularly true in Tennessee, a state with an official rifle and a history of political retribution for conservatives who disregard the gun lobbyists and their hard-line base. They had watched efforts led by other parents, galvanized by similar tragedy in Texas and other states, become snarled by politics. But the Tennessee legislature proved more hostile than the Covenant parents imagined. And when Joyce heard just one more gun rights supporter dismiss the parents’ concerns after days of restraint, her patience snapped. The shooter at Covenant “hunted our children with a high-capacity rifle,” Joyce cried out, her voice cracking, as she confronted the gun rights supporter in the Capitol rotunda. He walked away, but not before suggesting she listen more closely to his arguments. “I have held my composure,” she said, now openly angry despite the crowd that had gathered. “I have stayed calm. I have been silent and quiet and composed. And I am sick of it. Listen to me.”