‘Undemocratic’: Tennessee legislature expels two lawmakers over gun violence protest


(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Two Democratic lawmakers have been ousted from the Republican-controlled Tennessee state House of Representatives and one was allowed to stay in what marks the first partisan expulsion in the state’s modern history.

State Rep. Justin Jones, the first lawmaker expelled when lawmakers voted to adopt HR65, called the resolution “a spectacle” and “a lynch mob assembled to not lynch me, but our democratic process.”

“We called for you all to ban assault weapons and you respond with an assault on democracy,” Jones said during his 20-minute opening statement.

Following the adoption of the expulsion resolution, Jones said his ouster “is just setting a precedent that any member who voices dissent or opposition can be expelled from the legislative body.”

“Whether I’m a member on the inside or a community member on the outside, I will continue to stand with the people demanding change because this is not the end. But today is a very dangerous day for America,” he said in a hallway interview after the vote, according to NewsNation.

State Rep. Justin Pearson, who sang “Power to the People” and quoted from the Bible, said the resolution to remove him was an “injustice against the First Amendment.”

“Speaking up on behalf of the last, the lost, the least, those who’ve been left out, those who’ve been ignored, those who’ve been silenced but refuse to be silent anymore, that does not deserve expulsion from this House,” he said before he was expelled from the chamber Thursday evening.

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, the sole lawmaker to survive the expulsion resolutions, denied allegations that she shouted from the well and said she breached House decorum in a needed effort to stir “good trouble.”

“My friends in school all called me ‘Little Miss Law and Order’ because I’m a rule-follower, and I know that rules sometimes have to be broken and sometimes you have to get in good trouble,” she said.

“I may have broken a rule, but the words in this document are false and I did what I was compelled to do based on speaking for the voters in my district who were begging me to bring this issue forward,” she later added, gesturing at HR64, which would have expelled her from the legislative body.

President Joe Biden said the move to oust the lawmakers was “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” arguing Republicans in Tennessee were focused on “punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action” rather than pushing for reforms.

Earlier in the Thursday session, the legislature passed HB322, a bill that requires schools to implement a number of safety plans and security systems, over the objections of the three members who face expulsion.

“This bill is not about school safety that will not make our students safer,” Jones said, adding the move to “make our schools militarized zones” is borne out of refusal “to address the real issue, which is easy access to military grade weapons, which is easy access to weapons of war on our streets.”

Johnson, a former teacher, decried the possibility of “gun battles at our schoolhouse door,” and Pearson argued that “the root cause that each of us have to address is this gun violence epidemic do the due to the proliferation of guns.”

“We don’t need a solution that says if you don’t lock a door or get someone with a gun, we need a solution that says people shouldn’t be going to schools and to houses and to neighborhoods with weapons of war,” Pearson added.

Protesters gathered both inside — in the gallery, where they were told to remain silent — and in large groups outside, in apparent support of the three Democratic lawmakers.

Jones, Johnson and Pearson are facing expulsion resolutions for allegedly violating the chamber’s rules of decorum by participating in a gun control protest at the state Capitol last week. The demonstration came in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting in Nashville on March 27, where a former student fatally shot three children and three adults, police have said.

When protesters crowded the state House and gallery hallways last week, calling for stricter gun laws, only one Democratic lawmaker was granted permission to address them.

Others, particularly young progressives like freshman Reps. Pearson and Jones, also wanted to speak but were prohibited by Republican leadership.

So, during a recess, the duo, along with Johnson, used the well of the House chambers to demand action. With their mics shut off, they brought a megaphone, leading chants.

Days later, Tennessee’s Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso and Andrew Farmer sponsored the expulsion resolutions Monday. They argued the Democratic lawmakers “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”

Hulsey, Bulso and Farmer did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Republican state lawmakers including Speaker Cameron Sexton have accused the trio of attempting to incite an insurrection, even likening their actions to the violent Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to ABC affiliate WKRN.

Since the Civil War, the Tennessee state House has voted only twice to expel a member.

As of Thursday, the trio of Democrats said they have already lost ID access to the state Capitol and been stripped of any committee assignments.

But Pearson and Johnson told ABC News, no matter the results of the expulsion vote, they will remain undeterred in fighting for their constituents.

“If we are expelled on Thursday, you can expect the protest to continue the resistance to build, and the advocacy for our communities and for the people that we care about,” said Pearson.

“This is not going to stop me in the least,” Johnson added.

ABC News’ Sarah Beth Guevara and Nakylah Carter contributed to this report.

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