Watch CBS News

Nashville school shooting protest on Tennessee state house floor could see Republicans expel 3 Democratic colleagues

Tennessee Democrats face removal from office
Tennessee Democrats may face removal from office after a gun control protest on House floor 02:29

Nashville — Lawmakers in Nashville have been under pressure to tighten gun laws after last week's deadly school shooting in the Tennessee capital. Protesters filled the state house chamber a week ago and, at one point, Democratic legislators led a chant of "power to the people" from the house floor, using a bullhorn.

On Thursday, those three Democrats face an unprecedented vote that could see the Republican supermajority in control of the state's legislature expel them from office. The Republican leadership accuses Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson of breaking the house's rules on conduct and decorum.

Democrats see it as blatant retribution and an extreme enforcement of conduct rules using an expulsion mechanism typically reserved for criminal activity.

The White House even weighed in on Wednesday, with Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accusing Republican lawmakers of focusing on rebuking Democrats for protesting rather than on ways to prevent further school shootings.

"What did the Republican legislators do? They're trying to expel these three Democratic legislators who joined in the protest," Jean-Pierre said, accusing the Tennessee Republicans of "shrugging in the face of yet another tragic school shooting while our kids continue to pay the price."

Hero officers share their stories after last week's school shooting in Nashville 02:41

The tension around the Tennessee State Capitol was already palpable early Thursday morning ahead of the vote.

The forced expulsion of lawmakers from any state legislative body in the U.S. is extremely rare. Only two other house members have ever been booted from the Tennessee chamber since the Civil War.

"It's outrageous," Rep. Johnson, one of the three facing retribution, told CBS News, adding that if she and her two colleagues are ejected, it would send "a terrifying message to me that we are losing democracy."

"I think it's morally insane," her colleague, Rep. Jones, told CBS News on Wednesday. "My colleagues on the other side of the aisle, their first action is to expel their colleagues for joining the thousands of Tennesseans who are demanding common sense gun laws. We were calling for a ban on assault weapons, and instead my colleagues have responded by assaulting our democracy and taking the unprecedented step of expelling us for standing with the people and for speaking out and demanding that our house act on gun legislation when they cut off our mics and refused to allow us to talk on the issue on the house floor."

3 Tennessee lawmakers could face expulsion after gun violence protest 05:57

"We believe this is going to set a very dangerous precedent," Jones said. "There's never been a completely partisan expulsion of opposition voices in Tennessee history. This is a very scary time, and this is going to have implications nationwide."

The Nashville shooting left three 9-year-old students and three adults dead. It sparked a debate over gun laws in Tennessee that has sent shockwaves across the entire country. On Wednesday, thousands of students fed-up with gun violence walked out of schools they say they don't feel safe in.

"It really makes you concerned if you're going to be next," said Alexix Morley, joining a student walkout in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The Nashville community was still mourning Thursday for the six lives cut short when The Covenant School came under attack by a former student armed with three legally purchased firearms.

Among the victims was the woman who ran the school, Katherine Koonce.

Final funeral held for victims of Nashville shooting 01:55

"She was incredibly strong," her close friend Anna Caudill told CBS News.  

Police have said Koonce jumped into action, trying to stop the shooter.

"There was a confrontation, I'm sure," said Nashville Police Chief John Drake. "You can tell the way she was lying in the hallway."

"Her priority would have been [to protect] everyone — everyone in danger in that moment, without reservation," said Caudill.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.