Aug 21, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Tennessee special session on Covenant School shooting draws gun reform groups

Gun reform activists march toward the capitol ahead of the special session on August 21, 2023

Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Throngs of demonstrators returned to the Tennessee Capitol on Monday, once again urging lawmakers to respond to The Covenant School shooting with new gun control measures.

  • They met in prayer groups, marched and lifted up pictures of the victims killed in the mass shooting that scarred the city five months ago.

Why it matters: The Covenant shooting spurred a new wave of activism in Tennessee. Thousands of people have marched to the statehouse or organized new groups since March 27. Many of them said they had never considered participating in demonstrations until the mass shooting that hit so close to home.

  • This week will test their resilience.

Driving the news: Despite the sustained outcry, the Republican-controlled legislature remains firmly against enacting gun restrictions during this week's special session.

  • Instead, lawmakers are expected to focus on mental health issues, juvenile crime and some school safety plans.
State Rep. Justin Pearson was reinstated Monday after leading a march through downtown Nashville. Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

State of play: Large sections inside the Capitol were cordoned off Monday, limiting the number of demonstrators who could come face-to-face with lawmakers in the building.

  • House Republicans also approved new rules under which lawmakers who are deemed disruptive could lose their ability to participate in debates. The stricter rules came after Republicans expelled two lawmakers who led protest chants from the House floor earlier this year.
  • One of those lawmakers, state Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), was officially reinstated Monday after leading a march through downtown Nashville.
A member of the extremist group known as the Proud Boys gives his organization's hand signal ahead of the special session. Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Zoom in: Most of the demonstrators gathered in Nashville on Monday pleaded for lawmakers to reconsider gun measures, but some pushed back against gun control.

  • The right-wing extremist group the Proud Boys also showed up, unfurling a banner outside the Capitol and verbally sparring with some of the pro-reform demonstrators.

The bottom line: Katy Dieckhaus, whose 9-year-old daughter Evelyn was one of the Covenant shooting's six victims, encouraged the groups that have rallied around the cause to continue advocating despite the "noise."

"I understand that feeling of wanting to scream, but we have to work together and we have to not be fearful of these extreme noises," Dieckhaus said during a panel yesterday at The Belcourt, according to the Tennessean. "So many people want to see change, and so many people deserve respect."

  • "We miss her every second of every day," Dieckhaus said of Evelyn. "We don't want other people to go through this."
Go deeper