Covenant School parent Sarah Shoop Neumann, second from left, wipes tears as she and others members of the audience are removed from the House Civil Justice Subcommittee meeting by the Republican chairman during a special session of the state legislature on public safety Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
Gun control advocates and parents of school shooting survivors were kicked out of a Tuesday hearing during the Tennessee House’s special session on gun reform.
The House passed rules at the start of its special session Monday to prohibit “disorderly conduct” and signs. On Tuesday, when three people silently held up signs in a Civil Justice subcommittee hearing that said one child’s life is more important than all guns, Chair Lowell Russell (R) ordered Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to remove the protesters.
The special session was called by Gov. Bill Lee (R) in response to March’s Covenant School shooting in Nashville, in which three children and three adults were killed.
Russell later ordered troopers to remove the rest of the public from the hearing room, saying the group’s clapping and cheering was unruly. The crowd included parents of children at Covenant School and other gun control advocates.
Sarah Neumann, a mother of a Covenant School student who survived the shooting, was among those kicked out of the hearing before she was allowed back in to testify against a bill that would allow teachers to carry guns at school.
“I know there’s big personalities,” Neumann told WKRN on Tuesday. “There’s also dead kids and grieving people looking for solutions.”
The governor called for the special session to pass laws that would keep guns away from people that are a threat to themselves or others. After the public was kicked out Tuesday, the subcommittee passed a bill that would allow gun permit holders, on-duty and off-duty cops, and retired or active military members to carry a handgun on any public school campus.
As Allison Polidor was removed from the hearing for holding up a sign, she said, “This isn’t what democracy looks like,” according to WTVF.
“It’s an attack on First Amendment rights,” she told the news outlet later. “I mean, I am here for my kids — everyone’s kids. They are making these laws or lack of laws. I am here representing everyone’s kids. No one should worry if their kids are going to come home from school or not. I feel like you can’t sit by. When we’ve come to the point you can’t hold up a sign, it’s not OK.”
State Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D) was in the hearing room and left when the protesters and audience did.
“It’s really concerning when you have your colleagues that are so drunk on power that they feel like they can do anything and treat people with complete disrespect,” he told WKRN.
Mark my words. The eyes of the 100s of mothers in the Cordell Hull Bldg bearing witness to injustice and the undemocratic manner in which this GOP supermajority runs state govt may result in more progress over long-term than any piece of legislation during this special session. https://t.co/So0vUpNfeR
— John Ray Clemmons (@JRClemmons) August 23, 2023
On Wednesday, a judge temporarily blocked the House’s rule to ban the public from holding signs during committee hearings and floor proceedings, according to The Associated Press.