Tennessee House Republicans on Monday took steps toward expelling three Democratic state representatives after they participated in protests at the state Capitol last Thursday calling for more gun control in the wake of the deadly mass shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School.
GOP lawmakers filed three resolutions Monday, one each seeking the expulsion of Reps. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, each of whom was already removed from their committee assignments after last week’s demonstrations. The resolutions were filed by Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso and Andrew Farmer.
The three Democratic lawmakers led a protest on the House floor last Thursday, CNN affiliate WSMV reported, using a bullhorn as demonstrators called for lawmakers to do something to prevent further gun violence after three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed in a mass shooting at the private Christian school last week.
CNN has reached out to Johnson, Jones and Pearson.
The 28-year-old shooter was armed with three guns and fired 152 rounds during the attack, police said.
“There comes a time when you have to do something out of the ordinary,” said Jones in a tweet. “We occupied the House floor today after repeatedly being silenced from talking about the crisis of mass shootings.”
In a series of tweets Monday, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton called the Democratic lawmakers’ actions “unacceptable,” adding they broke “several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor.”
CNN has reached out to Sexton.
The lawmakers themselves, however, appear defiant, with Johnson telling reporters Monday, “We committed no crime.”
Johnson acknowledged they “broke a rule” by speaking out of turn, but stressed, “We walked to the well to speak to the people that begged for us to protect them.”
On Tuesday, Pearson publicly shared the letter he sent to House members in which he said he takes accountability for “not following decorum” on the House floor but defended his actions.
“My walk to the House floor in a peaceful and civil manner was not an insurrection. I wanted to listen and respond to the voices of Tennesseans who were not give the opportunity to speak in meaningful dialogue with us,” Pearson wrote, according to an image of the letter he shared on Instagram.
“If this House decides to expel me for exercising our sacred first amendment right to help elevate the voices in our community who want to see us act to prevent gun violence, then do as you feel you must,” Pearson concluded.
House Democrats expressed solidarity with the trio in a statement Monday, saying the caucus stood “firmly united” with them.
“The Democratic Caucus has unanimously, formally voted to oppose the baseless resolutions for expulsion and will zealously oppose them should they come up for a vote on the House floor,” the statement said.
Efforts to expel the three House members are “morally bankrupt,” the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators said in a statement Tuesday.
“The political retribution is unconstitutional,” caucus chairman and Democratic Rep. Sam McKenzie said in the statement. “We fundamentally object to any effort to expel members for making their voices heard to end gun violence.”
The House speaker should be leading bipartisan discussions to “generate reforms that could stop the next school shooting,” McKenzie added.
“Instead he’s using his power to silence people who are calling for solutions that he opposes,” he said.
A vote on whether to expel the three members is slated for Thursday, according to The Tennessean. The representatives will have a chance to defend themselves, the newspaper reported.
CNN’s Amy Simonson, Raja Razek, Dianne Gallagher and Jaide Timm-Garcia contributed to this report.