Biden condemns Tennessee Republicans for ‘shocking’ move to expel Democrats who joined Nashville gun protest

President said decision was ‘without precedent’

Josh Marcus,Alex Woodward
Thursday 06 April 2023 23:42 BST
'Tennessee Three' receive hero's welcome in state capitol from anti-gun protesters

President Joe Biden condemned Tennessee Republicans for pushing to remove three Democratic lawmakers who participated in a gun violence protest on the statehouse floor last week following the recent Nashville mass shooting that killed six people at an elementary school.

“Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action,” the president wrote on Twitter on 7 April. “It’s shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”

The Tennessee house voted on Thursday to expel two of the three Black Democratic lawmakers who joined the protest, Rep Justin Pearson of Memphis and Rep Justin Jones of Nashville, while declining to expel another, Rep Gloria Johnson, who is white.

Mr Biden, who as a senator helped pass a sweeping federal assault weapons ban, has continued to call for national action on reducing gun violence after the Nashville shooting, including the revival of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

Rather than address the demands of thousands of Tennessee protesters, most of whom were young students, “tate Republican lawmakers called votes ... to expel three Democratic legislators who stood in solidarity with students and families and helped lift their voices,” the president said in a statement from the White House.

“Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee,” he added.

Last month, the president conceded that he had largely exhausted his ability to “do, on my own, anything about guns” after his ongoing demands to members of Congress to pass additional reform measures have faced overwhelming resistance from Republican lawmakers.

He said that the legislative branch “needs to act” if the US is to have any new laws governing the availability of firearms, particularly the military-style rifles that have become the weapon of choice for mass shooters in recent years.

“The majority of the American people think having assault weapons is bizarre. It’s a crazy idea. They’re against that. And so, I think the Congress should be passing the assault weapons ban,” he added.

So far, however, Congress has either ignored or been unable to pass legislation responding to his nearly 70 public calls for more gun reform, according to an analysis from The Independent.

The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, known as the federal assault weapons ban, was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, with several failed attempts in Congress to renew the ban after a series of massacres involving high-powered rifles that were previously impacted by the law.

The president, who was then a senator from Delaware, played a major role in passage of the 1994 legislation as part of that year’s massive anti-crime package enacted by then-President Bill Clinton.

A study from Northwestern University found that the ban prevented 11 public mass shootings within the decade it was in effect. The study also estimates that keeping the ban in place until 2019 would have prevented 30 public shootings that killed 339 and injured 1,139 people.

On Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans have largely shrugged off calls for new gun laws after the Nashville shooting. Instead, some, like far-right US Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, have used the killing of six people in Nashville as an occasion to attack transgender people. (Police and family members have described the Nashville assailant as transgender.)

The remarks have inspired fierce condemnation from Democratic lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“It’s absolutely disgusting and she should be looking into a mirror as to why she’s defending and posing with the same weapons that are being used to kill children, teachers and educators,” she told The Independent.

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