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Two black US lawmakers expelled for joining gun control protest

April 7, 2023 10:08 AM


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Tennessee's Republican-led state legislature on Thursday expelled two black Democratic lawmakers who led gun control protests at the state capitol in the wake of a school shooting.

US President Joe Biden condemned the action as "shocking" and an effort "to punish, silence and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee."

The pair were among what became known as the "Tennessee three" -- a trio of representatives who led protest chants a week ago from the House floor using a bullhorn, as peaceful demonstrators rallied in the gallery of the Nashville capitol building.

The three had not been recognized to speak and were accused of breaching House decorum and floor rules.

Lawmakers voted along mostly party lines to expel Justin Jones (72 to 25) and Justin Pearson (69 to 26). A vote to expel the third member of the group, Gloria Johnson, failed (65 to 30). Expulsion requires a two-thirds majority of the 99-member House.

With the expulsion of Jones and Pearson, Republicans ousted two of the youngest Black lawmakers in the legislature.

Johnson, who did not lead the chants with the bullhorn, is white. Six Republicans broke with their party to vote against Johnson's expulsion, The Tennessean newspaper reported.

Pearson and Jones had first walked up to the House podium during the floor session and used a bullhorn to lead gun reform chants, and were later joined by Johnson, The Tennessean reported.

Hundreds of protesters had gathered at the capitol last Thursday to rally for gun control after a shooter killed three young pupils and three staff at a private Christian elementary school on March 27.

The 28-year-old shooter fired 152 rounds from three firearms at the Nashville private Christian school during the rampage.

Biden characterized the proceedings against the three lawmakers as undemocratic retribution.

"Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting," Biden wrote on Twitter. "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."

In a statement he reiterated his call for Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and require background checks for all gun sales.

It is rare for lawmakers in Tennessee to expel an elected member of the General Assembly, a step usually only taken for egregious misconduct.

School shootings are strikingly common in the United States, as are calls in the aftermath for action on gun control, a hot-button political issue in the country.

Republican-led Tennessee has in recent years loosened gun laws. In 2021, Governor Bill Lee championed a law passed that year allowing anyone aged 21 and up to carry a firearm, both openly and concealed, without a permit.

The United States, a country of around 330 million people, is awash with some 400 million guns.



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