President Biden Meets with “Tennessee Three” at the White House

April 24, 2023

A trio of state lawmakers who faced expulsion laws for protesting gun laws—the so-called “Tennessee Three”—met with President Biden and Vice President Harris at the White House on Monday.

“On so many issues you’ve been out front and you understand exactly what it’s like,” said Biden. “It’s tragic to see what’s happening in your state in particular and your city but also across the country.”

Tennessee state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both Black, were expelled on April 6 while Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, survived the vote against her after the trio were accused a week earlier of breaking House rules by calling for gun reform.

On April 10 Nashville’s city council voted unanimously to reinstate Jones to his position in the state House. Two days later, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners in Memphis voted to reinstate Pearson.

However, state law still requires a special election on the seats filled by Jones and Pearson. That’s scheduled for August 3, after a June 15 primary election. Both lawmakers have said they intend to run.

The three lawmakers had called for gun reform three days after a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville where three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed.

“Nothing’s guaranteed by democracy,” Biden told the lawmakers on Monday. “Every generation has to fight for it, and you all are doing just that.”

Monday’s White House meeting took place one day after nine teenagers were wounded in a shooting at a prom after party in the wee hours of Sunday morning in Jasper, Texas.

It was the 171st mass shooting in the U.S. this year as defined by the Gun Violence Archive as four or more people killed or wounded. And it was the 41st mass shooting since the school shooting in Nashville on March 27 that led the “Tennessee Three” to their state House protest. 

The lawmakers’ call for stricter gun laws came as the state House was considering looser gun laws, including allowing people to carry rifles and shotguns in public without a permit, and to allow faculty or school staff members to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds with a permit.

However on Wednesday, Gov. Bill Lee (R) said he would back “red flag” legislation for a temporary order of protection law that would allow courts and law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from people for up to 180 days if a judge finds a person poses a “current and ongoing” risk of serious harm to themselves or others.

The governor’s statement came three days after the Tennessee General Assembly killed the proposed “red flag” law, sponsored by Democrats, without a committee hearing.

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