Friday, April 07, 2023

Tennessee Republicans think a megaphone is worse than a gun

Two Democratic members of Tennessee's House of Representatives have been expelled (i.e. completely removed, basically sacked) by the Republican supermajority in that state, in response to a protest by the two black members against the state's lack of gun control.

This follows yet another school shooting, this one taking six lives in a Nashville Christian school on 27 March. Tennessee has some of America's most lax gun regulations, with residents over the age of 21 allowed to carry firearms (concealed or unconcealed) without a permit. There are no universal background checks and no "red flag" laws. The perpetrator of this latest atrocity had purchased guns on seven separate occasions, and three of those guns were used in the recent school shootings.

Expulsion is a very rare remedy. The only times it has been used before in Tennessee have been for one case of bribery and one of sexual misconduct. A third (white) Democratic member who joined in the protest (but who didn't use a megaphone) was not expelled, but only by the barest of margins.

Some of the language used by the Republican caucus is extremely telling. House Speaker Cameron Sexton compared it (two guys with megaphones) to the January 6th insurrection: "What they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, to doing an insurrection in the state Capitol". Another Republican legislator said that the three Democrats had "effectively conducted a mutiny", whatever that might mean.

The only silver lining is that expulsion does not preclude the expelled Democrats from running again, so they could be back in the General Assembly within months after a by-election. Also, a county governing body in Tennessee has the power to appoint an interim representative in the case of a vacancy, so it might not even be that long.

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