Cries to Protect Our Children End in Expulsion

Yet again, this country has endured another fatal school shooting. And, unfortunately, our approach to these tragedies is still quite cyclical: First, the U.S. is made aware of the shooting, followed by a discussion of how awful it is that there has been another. Often, many shootings do not even gain national coverage, leaving much to fall under the radar. Since these tragedies have become far more commonplace, people have grown desensitized, switching the channel until it eventually fades from their memories like it never happened. It makes one beg the question of whether or not we genuinely care for our children in schools—or for our citizens, who are now vulnerable in public spaces. However, those who do care are being silenced, and in the case of Tennessee State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, they face expulsion from their legislatures. 

David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, states that “compared to the other peer countries, basically what we have is lots and lots of guns, particularly handguns, and we have by far the weakest gun laws.” The United States is the only developed nation in the world to face such an issue related to gun violence and gun-related issues. As of April 7, 2023—only four months into the year—there have been 11,136 deaths due to gun violence, with 143 mass shootings resulting in the deaths of 66 children aged 0-11 and 385 teens aged 12-17. The U.S. has surpassed 39,000 deaths from gun violence per year since 2014, and of the top 10 most deadly mass shootings in modern U.S. history, half have occurred in the last five years. This is not only alarming, but also quite shameful for a country that prides itself on freedom but cannot protect one of its citizens’ most fundamental rights: the right to life. 

Students should also be free to live peacefully and study safely in their schools. And yet all over the nation, we continue to practice traumatizing and ineffective lockdown drills. Each day, students, parents, and teachers fear for their lives, hoping that their classroom isn’t next target for a gunman. As a result, students have continuously made their grievances known and have protested across the nation, pleading with politicians and legislators to make the necessary changes to reduce gun violence. After the recent shooting at Covenant School on March 27th, the public outcry was similar. The shooter, armed with a rifle, killed three young children and three teachers. In response, three Tennessee state lawmakers, Representatives Justin Jones, Justin J. Pearson, and Gloria Johnson, faced expulsion hearings on Thursday for ignoring the chamber’s rules of decorum by engaging in a gun control protest at the State Capitol. Standing by their fearful and disheartened constituents, these representatives used their platforms to voice their concerns related to gun violence in their state. Instead of working to pass legislation to protect children from similar tragedies in the future, however, others in the Tennessee House moved to expel those who were willing to fight to make that happen.

The representatives who sponsored the expulsion resolutions, Republican Representatives Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso, and Andrew Farmer, argued that the Democratic lawmakers “… knowingly and intentionally [brought] disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.” Therefore, Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were removed using a disciplinary action that had previously gone unused for centuries. Representative Gloria Johnson luckily managed to escape the same fate; when questioned about why she was not also removed, she replied, “It might have to do with the color of our skin.” Indeed, while both Jones and Pearson are Black, Johnson is white. 

Ultimately, the impending expulsion of the lawmakers is incredibly discouraging to all people who have been fighting against increased gun violence in this nation. The precedent set by the expulsion of Tennessee Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson is that even those in our legislative bodies will be punished when fighting for their rights and the rights of others. Further, this event compounded something we already knew about this nation: the blatant racism against people of color in the country that exists within our systems. Regardless, it is disturbing that this problem has been made into a political “plaything” instead of a moral and universal problem in that children are being gunned down. Instead of protections for the children in this country, people instead protect their gun rights. There has been a desensitization of school shootings, and their politicization has definitely contributed to a lack of action against this problem in the United States. Therefore, something that the U.S. needs to do in order to resolve its epidemic of gun violence is to remember that this is not normal. Hundreds of mass shootings and thousands of gun deaths yearly should not be the standard. We must continue to place pressure on our legislators to keep us safe and threaten their jobs if they do not capitulate. Politicians have long gotten away with collecting checks from the NRA and offering the country their “thoughts and prayers,” but that is not enough now, nor has it ever been or ever will be. The people we put in office are elected to cater to their constituents, and therefore, the first step is putting the right individuals in these powerful positions and encouraging others to act in the same manner Tennessee Representatives Pearson, Jones, and Johnson did.