Tennessee House expels two Democrats over gun control protest

US President Joe Biden calls the vote 'shocking, undemocratic and without precedent'

Justin Jones carries his name tag after he was expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives for his role in a gun control demonstration. Reuters
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Two Democratic legislators in Tennessee were fired on Thursday over their role in a protest demanding Republican colleagues take action on gun reform after last week's primary school shooting in Nashville.

The state's Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 72 to 25 to expel Justin Jones, a 27-year-old local activist, who was elected in 2022.

It also voted to expel Justin Pearson, also 27, in a 69-26 vote.

“We are losing our democracy. This is not normal. This is not OK," Mr Pearson told reporters.

Mr Jones defended his actions and called the vote an “attempt to expel the voice of the people from the People's House”.

He added that it was a “very dark day for Tennessee”.

Thousands of people braved foul weather and descended on the Tennessee statehouse in Nashville in a show of solidarity with Mr Jones, Mr Pearson and their Democratic colleague, Gloria Johnson.

Ms Johnson narrowly avoided being expelled by the House. Representatives voted 65 to 30 to fire her, failing to win the two-thirds majority required.

As a white woman, she was asked about the expulsion of her black colleague Mr Jones.

"It might have to do with the colour of our skin," she said.

Mr Jones, Ms Johnson and Mr Pearson were chastised by their Republican colleagues over their role in a gun control demonstration after the shooting at a Christian primary school in Nashville that left three children and three staff members dead.

US President Joe Biden tweeted that the move by Tennessee Republicans was "shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent".

"Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting," Mr Biden said.

"And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action."

Former president, Barack Obama, also voiced his concern.

"This nation was built on peaceful protest. No elected official should lose their job simply for raising their voice," he said.

The crowd, whose chants could be heard within the chamber as legislators voted on a series of bills, was not enough to sway Republicans.

“Across Tennessee and across America, our kids are paying the price for the actions of Republican lawmakers who continue to refuse to take action on stronger gun laws," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

The three state representatives encouraged protesters after they entered the state capitol building last week.

They also led chants and demanded their colleagues pass stricter gun laws. Their actions forced a temporary pause in legislative proceedings.

That appears to have been enough to instigate the historic vote.

Last year, the state's Senate expelled Democrat Katrina Robinson after she was convicted of using about $3,400 in federal grant money on wedding expenses instead of nursing school.

Before that case, politicians had last removed a House member in 2016 when the chamber voted 70-2 to remove Republican Jeremy Durham after an attorney general’s investigation found evidence of improper sexual contact with at least 22 women during his four years in office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Updated: April 07, 2023, 7:40 AM