Tuesday marked the second day of the Tennessee Legislature’s special session on gun violence. Ostensibly set up by Gov. Bill Lee to help legislate ways to make the state safer and protect children from the gun violence plaguing our country, the Republican-controlled state Senate and House spent the first day of the session creating rules designed to squash dissent.
Gun reform advocates showed up to the hearing Tuesday, many of whom have children who attend The Covenant School, where three children and three staff members were killed by a mass shooter on March 27, 2023. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed new rules Monday intended to restrict free speech, including a prohibition on signs of any size. Those new restrictions were quickly deployed against the moms and other reform advocates in attendance.
During the subcommittee hearing, two women holding small yellow paper signs that read, “1 KID > ALL THE GUNS” were escorted out by state troopers at the request of Republican state Rep. Lowell Russell, who chairs the subcommittee. One woman, identified as Nashville resident Allison Polidor, asked, “What about my First Amendment rights?” Polidor was visibly shaking as she was led out of the room by a state trooper, saying, “This is not what democracy looks like!”
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One of The Covenant School mothers, Sarah Shoop Neumann, weeped as she spoke with WKRN reporter Chris O’Brien, explaining how difficult it is for these moms, whose children have been directly affected by gun violence, to walk into an already confrontational environment and then have their basic rights stripped by lawmakers.
Neumann and the other Covenant mothers who were denied the right to speak had already navigated a counterprotest of Proud Boys on Monday. The tough guys demonstrating against grieving parents covered their faces to hide their identities. Here is Neumann bravely confronting them outside the Tennessee Capitol in a video shared by billydkilgore on Twitter.
Other gun safety supporters got creative in order to get around the free speech restrictions.
What state Rep. Justin Jones, state Rep. Justin Pearson, and others advocating for change are up against in the Tennessee Legislature can best be summarized in this clip, which was shared by The Tennessee Holler.
Another member of the “Tennessee Three,” state Rep. Gloria Johnson, said she was followed around the Capitol building by members of the Proud Boys.
WKRN reporter O’Brien reports families are already arriving at the Tennessee Capitol on Wednesday morning, where one member of the nonprofit group Covenant Families for Brighter Tomorrows will testify in favor of a bill that would prevent the murdered children’s autopsy results from being publicly released.
The Tennessean reports that it is still unclear when this special session will end. What is clear is that the Republican-controlled state House and Senate are working in a way that suggests very little will get accomplished, especially when it comes to any common-sense gun law reform. At the time of The Covenant School shooting, Republican representatives like Tim Burchett literally told reporters, “We're not gonna fix it,” when asked about gun reform legislation. For all of the lying Republican politicians do, they are keeping their word when it comes to doing nothing to “fix” gun violence.
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American political parties might often seem stuck in their ways, but they can and in fact do change positions often. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is political scientist David Karol, who tells us how and why both the Democratic and Republican parties have adjusted their views on a wide range of issues over the years. Karol offers three different models for how these transformations happen—and explains why voters often stick with their parties even after these shifts. He concludes by offering tips to activists seeking to push their parties when they're not changing fast enough.