Tennessee state Reps. Justin Pearson of Memphis and Justin Jones of Nashville will be back on the House floor on Monday for their first legislative session since comfortably reclaiming their seats in an early August special election.
The landslide victories came almost three months after Pearson and Jones — two young, Black Democrats — were expelled by Tennessee Republicans for participating in a peaceful gun protest on the House floor.
The special session, requested by Gov. Bill Lee (R) and slated to start Monday at 4:00 p.m. CT, will focus on the very same issue that led to their ousting in the first place: guns and public safety.
Jones told TPM he will be reintroducing House Bill 1580 — aka “Protect Kids Not Guns Act” — during the special session.
Jones’ bill — which he first introduced in April, just days after being expelled and appointed as an interim House member to fill the seat he was ousted from — aims to make changes to the state’s current gun laws by enacting some common sense policies.
The 24-page bill seeks to ban a person from possessing an ammunition feeding device that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds (“large-capacity magazine”), with exceptions for law enforcement agencies.
It also requires gun owners to keep any firearms they possess secured in a locked container so others can’t access it.
The bill also introduces extreme risk protection orders — often known as “red flag laws”— to prevent gun violence by temporarily restricting gun access for individuals at an elevated risk of harming themselves or others – a measure that Lee himself has implored state lawmakers to consider.
To usher in the special session, hundreds gathered outside of the state Capitol on Monday morning, starting the day with a prayer vigil, according to The Tennessean reporter Liam Adams.
The group sang together as they walked the steps of the Capitol, according to videos Adams shared from the Capitol building.
They also held hands and created a single file chain surrounding the entire building for group prayer.
And though they appeared to not cause any disruptions to the prayer vigil, a group of Proud Boys were also at the scene.
The push to potentially tighten the state’s lax gun laws comes just months after Pearson and Jones were expelled from their seats for calling for gun restrictions alongside protestors.
During the April demonstration, Pearson and Jones, as well as Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville — an older white woman, who survived the GOP-led attempt to oust the trio — joined a group of demonstrators, made up mostly of teachers, children and parents holding signs and protesting the Nashville school shooting that left three children and three school personnel dead earlier this year. The group packed the state’s Capitol building and the House gallery and chanted calling for gun restrictions. Jones, Johnson and Pearson cheered on the protestors from the front of the House chamber, with two of them using a bullhorn.
In response, state Republicans accused the state lawmakers of participating in an “insurrection” and moved forward with efforts to oust them, claiming the three Democrats “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
The ousting of the two Black Democrats garnered national attention. House Republican leaders have repeatedly denied that race was a factor in the expulsions of the two Black lawmakers. But Democrats across the country, including Tennessee Democrat and third protestor Johnson, pushed back on the argument, saying that the only reason that she wasn’t expelled was because she is white.
As the state House descended into chaos this spring, the Republican governor urged the General Assembly to pass legislation that would keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others. But instead, the GOP leadership moved to quickly adjourn and end the session rather than take up the governor’s request in the remaining days of an already-tumultuous session being watched across the country.
In response, Lee (R) announced he would call a special session to take up the topic, later setting the special session’s focus on “strengthening public safety,” including “steps to support law enforcement, address mental health, prevent violent crime and stop human trafficking.” Lee also asked lawmakers to consider crafting legislation that would specifically keep guns out of the hands of those who may pose a threat to themselves or others.