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Tennessee GOP Attempts to Expel Democrats for Gun Control Protests

Members of the Tennessee legislature are trying to expel three Democratic lawmakers who joined a protest in favor of gun-law reforms. On Monday, Republican state Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso, and Andrew Farmer filed resolutions aimed at removing Democratic Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson for leading statehouse protesters in gun control chants from the House floor last Thursday. The lawmakers joined thousands of people including college students, high school students, and parents, who demonstrated at the Nashville Capitol to call for more action on gun control after three children and three adults were killed in the Covenant School shooting. A vote will be held Thursday on the expulsion resolutions, which could pass if two-thirds of the state’s House vote in favor. Republicans have a supermajority in the House, holding 75 of the 99 seats, meaning they have the numbers to move forward if GOP lawmakers all supported the measures, reports Vox. The resolutions attempt to remove Johnson, Jones, and Pearson on the grounds that they’ve “knowingly and intentionally [brought] disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives.” If successful, these resolutions would expel the three members, sending a chilling message about free speech, democratic representation, and the role of an opposition party. The debacle also sends a disturbing signal about lawmakers’ openness to discuss gun control, becaause it shuts down dissenting voices.

Republicans' push for expulsion is a rare and undemocratic maneuver that would remove three prominent gun control advocates from their elected positions — including two Black members. Only two lawmakers have been expelled from the Tennessee legislature since the Civil War. Tennessee has expansive gun rights and limited gun control, with the legislature and governor pushing laws in 2021 that enable more people to carry handguns without a permit. During the protest, Johnson, Jones, and Pearson, who represent Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis, respectively, went onto the House floor amid a legislative session and led protesters in the upper gallery in chants like “Gun control now,” using a bullhorn. Republicans have said that this behavior was disruptive and warrants expulsion. Republicans argue that Democrats have broken multiple House rules including speaking without being recognized and crowding the House clerk’s desk. Speaker Cameron Sexton noted that Democrats violated principles of “decorum and procedure on the House floor,” and has gone so far as to compare the gun control protest with an “insurrection,” rhetorically linking lawmakers’ peaceful protest at their workplace with rioters’ deadly break-in at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Although the Democrats agreed they broke rules on decorum, they’ve argued doing so was necessary to attempt to avoid future child gun deaths Jones used the term #GoodTrouble, the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)’s calls for civil rights activism.

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