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Tennessee's state legislature expels 2 of 3 Democrats over gun control protest after Nashville shooting – ABC News

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Tennessee's state legislature expels 2 of 3 Democrats over gun control protest after Nashville shooting
In an act of political retaliation, Tennessee Republicans on Thursday expelled two Democrats from the state legislature for their role in a protest that called for more gun control in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Nashville.
The banishment of representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson was a move the Tennessee House of Representatives has used only a handful times since the Civil War.
Most US state legislatures possess the power to expel members, but it is generally reserved as a punishment for sitting politicians accused of serious misconduct, not used as a weapon against political opponents.
The Republican super-majority in the house declined by a single vote to expel a third Democrat, Representative Gloria Johnson.
Ms Johnson joined with Mr Jones and Mr Pearson last week as hundreds of protesters packed the state capitol in Nashville, to call for passage of gun-control measures.
While demonstrators filled galleries, the three Democrats approached the front of the house chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant.
The protest unfolded days after the shooting at The Covenant School, a private Christian school where six people were killed, including three children.
The shooter who killed three children and three adults at a Christian school in Nashville legally bought seven firearms in recent years and hid the guns before the attack, police say.
"We are losing our democracy. This is not normal. This is not OK," Mr Pearson told reporters as he waited to learn whether he would also be banished.
He said the three "broke a house rule because we're fighting for kids who are dying from gun violence and people in our communities who want to see an end to the proliferation of weaponry in our communities".
Ms Johnson, a retired teacher, said her concern about school shootings was personal, recalling a day in 2008 when students came running toward her out of a cafeteria because a student had just been shot and killed there.
"The trauma on those faces, you will never, ever forget. I don't want to forget it," she said.
Thousands of people flocked to the state capitol on Thursday to support the Democrats, cheering and chanting outside the house chamber so loudly that the noise drowned out the proceedings.
The trio held hands as they walked onto the house floor, and Mr Pearson raised his fist to the crowd during the Pledge of Allegiance.
Offered a chance to defend himself before the vote, Mr Jones said the Republicans responded to the shooting with a different kind of attack.
"We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy," he said.
Mr Jones vowed that he would continue pressing for action on guns.
"I'll be out there with the people every week, demanding that you act," he said.
Republican Gino Bulso said the three Democrat representatives "effectively conducted a mutiny".
"The gentleman shows no remorse," Mr Bulso said, referring to Mr Jones.
"He does not even recognise that what he did was wrong. So not to expel him would simply invite him and his colleagues to engage in mutiny on the house floor."
Even though two of the three have been expelled, they may not be gone for long. County commissions in their districts get to pick replacements to serve until a special election can be scheduled.
Any expelled members would be eligible for appointment back to their seats.
They would also be eligible to run in the special election. And, under the Tennessee Constitution, representatives cannot be expelled for the same offence twice.
Republican Representative Sabi Kumar advised Mr Jones, who is black, to be more collegial and less-focused on race.
"You have a lot to offer, but offer it in a vein where people are accepting of your ideas," Mr Kumar said.
Mr Jones said he did not intend to assimilate in order to be accepted.
"I'm not here to make friends. I'm here to make a change for my community," he replied.
Outrage over the expulsions underscored not only the ability of the Republican super-majority to silence opponents, but its increasing willingness to do so.
In Washington, United States President Joe Biden blasted the Republican's priorities.
The head teacher who died in Monday's school shooting in Nashville is being remembered as an "absolute dynamo". 
"Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting," Mr Biden tweeted.
"And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action.
"It's shocking, undemocratic and without precedent."
Many of the protesters travelled from Memphis and Knoxville, areas that Mr Pearson and Ms Johnson represent, and stood in a line that wrapped around the state capitol to get inside.
Protesters outside the chamber held up signs that said: "School zones shouldn't be war zones", "Muskets didn't fire 950 rounds per minute" with a photo of George Washington, and "You can silence a gun … but not the voice of the people."
Before the expulsion vote, house members debated more than 20 bills, including a school safety proposal requiring public and private schools to submit their building safety plans to the state.
The bill did not address gun control, sparking criticism from some Democrat members that politicians were only addressing a symptom and not the cause of school shootings.
Past expulsion votes in Tennessee have taken place under distinctly different circumstances.
In 2019, members faced pressure to expel former Republican representative David Byrd after he faced accusations of sexual misconduct dating back three decades to when he was a high school basketball coach.
Republicans declined to take any action, pointing out that he was re-elected as the allegations surfaced.
Mr Byrd retired last year.
Last year, the state senate expelled Democrat Katrina Robinson after she was convicted of using about $US3,400 ($5,094) in federal grant money on wedding expenses, instead of on her nursing school.
Before that case, state members last ousted a house member in 2016, when the chamber voted 70-2 to remove Republican representative Jeremy Durham after an attorney-general's investigation detailed allegations of improper sexual contact with at least 22 women during his four years in office.
Reuters
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