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Tennessee GOP Plans to Expel Democrats Over Peaceful Gun Reform Protests

GOP state House Speaker Cameron Sexton said the peaceful protests were “maybe worse” than the U.S. Capitol attack.

Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones enters the house chamber ahead of session as protesters chant demanding action for gun reform laws in the state at the Tennessee State Capitol on April 3, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee.

Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee state House of Representatives have taken steps to expel three of their Democratic colleagues after the Democrats participated in a protest for gun reform on the House floor last week.

Thousands of protesters have gathered at the Tennessee capitol over the past week to demand gun reform after a Nashville school shooting killed three adults and three children last week. According to local media estimates, between 2,500 and 3,000 students have walked out of their schools, with thousands surrounding the capitol building on Monday.

Last Thursday, three Democratic lawmakers — Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson — used a bullhorn in the middle of a legislative session to encourage protest chants by observers in the gallery. Immediately after the chants began, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) called a recess. After the hour-long recess, the gallery was cleared and legislative work resumed without further interruption.

House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D) has described the three Democrats’ participation in the protest as “good trouble,” referencing the late Democratic Congressman John Lewis’s philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Sexton, meanwhile, described the protest as “at least equivalent, maybe worse” than the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building.

The Capitol attack was waged by a mob of loyalists to former President Donald Trump — many of them armed — in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Unlike the peaceful demonstration for gun reform at the Tennessee House, it resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.

Since the Thursday protest, Republicans have stripped the three Democratic lawmakers of their committee assignments. On Monday, Republicans filed and forwarded resolutions to expel the lawmakers, with a final vote on removing them from office slated for later this week.

Expulsions are rare in the Tennessee state legislature, and usually come about only after a lawmaker has committed or been accused of a crime. Former Democratic Sen. Katrina Robinson was removed from office in 2022 after being convicted of wire fraud, for example, and former Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham was expelled over allegations of sexual harassment.

During the legislative action on Monday night to begin the expulsion process, demonstrators flooded the gallery, condemning Republicans as fascists for their response to the protest last week. According to Jones, who recorded some of the proceedings, demonstrators and media were forced to leave the chamber before the vote began. Jones has also said that a Republican lawmaker pushed him and took his phone away, preventing him from recording the final vote.

“This is a sad day for Tennessee,” he said.

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