The Tennessee House of Representatives burst into chaos Tuesday when Republicans voted to adjourn a special session on public safety, after ignoring widespread demands for increased gun control.
The state legislature convened the special session last week in response to a mass shooting in March, when a gunman opened fire on an elementary school and killed three children and three adults. State Republicans have insisted that there is nothing they could have done or could do differently to prevent such a tragedy—and they appear determined to make good on that claim.
The Senate had adjourned earlier Tuesday, closing the chamber until January. House Republicans forced through a motion to adjourn the chamber, also until January, moments before Democratic Representative Justin Jones—one of the formerly expelled Tennessee Three—could call for a vote of no confidence of Speaker Cameron Sexton. When Sexton gaveled through the motion adjourning the House, the chamber erupted.
Spectators began to chant, “Vote them out!” and “Shame!” As Sexton tried to leave, Jones and Democratic Representative Justin Pearson, another member of the Tennessee Three, followed him, waving protest signs. At one point, Sexton’s shoulder appeared to bump Pearson. Another Republican blocked Pearson from getting closer, while Sexton wheeled around and shouted at him, waving his finger in Pearson’s face.
Jones then went up to the speaker’s podium, banged the gavel, and shouted, “This House is out of order!” Pearson joined the protesters outside the chamber in the Capitol rotunda.
Democrats were infuriated by Republicans’ refusal to pass any gun control measures. “No one should leave this building today saying we made Tennessee safer,” Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari said. “Because that is simply not true. We didn’t enact any new policies, we didn’t meet the needs of these parents, who are just crying out for us to do something.”
“How long? How much longer will we allow ourselves to remain in this state?”
The special session has been tense from the start, when Republicans tried to ban signs from the House chamber, a direct response to the many protesters demanding increased gun control. Republicans also voted Monday to silence Jones for the day, prompting Democrats to walk out of the session in solidarity.
This was not the first time Republicans had tried to silence Jones. The GOP voted in March to expel Jones and Pearson, both of whom are Black, for allegedly breaking House rules by joining thousands of pro–gun control protesters. Republicans fell one vote short of expelling Gloria Johnson, a white woman, who also joined the protest.