This week, as thousands of Nashville students walked out of their schools to protest gun violence following the mass shooting at the Covenant School — kicking off a walkout movement across the country — Bernice King reflected on what the young protesters could learn from the Civil Rights Movement in which her father was a major figure. “I wish there was a way to really organize them in a way that their walkout is not a day, but it’s the Montgomery bus protests,” King told The Hill, “that we refuse to return to school until there is some significant legislation that bans assault weapons.”
The timing of her comments, and the student walkouts, was significant. This week marked 55 years since civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was killed in Memphis, just over a three-hour drive from Nashville. “My father was assassinated with a rifle that would be the equivalent of what we call assault weapons today,” King said. “Fifty-five years later we’re just increasing the access to these instruments.”
Her comments are especially pertinent for Tennessee, which has one of the highest gun death rates in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center. The state’s GOP-dominated Legislature has spent the past decade relaxing gun restrictions, including removing handgun permitting requirements in 2021. And while the recent student-led protests prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to vote to delay action on firearm-related legislation until 2024, it’s unlikely that any firearm restrictions will pass in Tennessee in the near future.
After three Democratic representatives participated in an anti-gun violence demonstration last week, leading chants on the House floor without being recognized to speak, members of the GOP supermajority introduced resolutions to expel them from their positions. Retaking those seats would require appointment by county authorities or a special election. It’s an extraordinarily rare action that legislators have declined to take in a number of other scandals. The announcement, and approval, of the expulsion measures was met with chaos from observing protesters and legislators alike.
The uproar at the Capitol continued through the final votes on Thursday, as protesters showed up in droves to support the “Tennessee Three.” After a heated set of hearings that frequently addressed racism in the House, the Republicans ousted Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both of whom are Black. The third lawmaker, Gloria Johnson, who is white, was spared expulsion by a single vote. The trio, who each represent one of Tennessee’s largest cities, decried the results as racially motivated — and noted that the proceedings distracted from addressing gun violence. After the votes, Jones and Pearson encouraged protesters to continue rallying at the Capitol: “They thought they won today, but they don’t realize what they started,” Jones said. “They started a movement they can’t stop.”
In King’s view, the student protests call for change that’s long past due. “The issue is, these are deadly instruments, and we should not have them in society,” she said. “What we need to do is develop the capacity to love each other, to be compassionate, to create just and equitable circumstances in this world.”
From Our Team
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What to Know This Week
Colorado’s intelligence agency is tasked with preventing terror attacks. Why is it monitoring student gun violence protests? [The Intercept]
Gun violence in schools is a persistent, and growing, problem. For administrators, preventing shootings means walking a fine line between increasing security and furthering the school-to-prison pipeline. [Chalkbeat]
New research suggests that shootings are becoming more lethal — gun fatalities at the scene, before victims can receive medical aid, are up about 9 percent from 1999. A key factor in the rise, researchers say, is a change in the types of guns being used. [CNN]
Why is the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. declining to prosecute about two-thirds of people arrested? [The Washington Post]
Safe Streets, Baltimore’s flagship gun violence intervention program, appears to have prompted significant decreases in shootings in areas where it has outposts, a new study found. [The Baltimore Banner]
The Justice Department reached a $144 million settlement with victims of the 2017 massacre at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The agreement ends a yearslong legal battle in which the government claimed it was not at fault for failing to alert the FBI of the shooter’s domestic violence conviction. [The New York Times]
The National Tracing Center performs one of the ATF’s most important jobs: understanding a gun’s path from production to its use in a crime. Why are efforts to modernize the center stalled in Congress? [Politico]
A 27-year-old white man reportedly armed with more than 1,000 rounds of ammo, several guns, and an assortment of other deadly weapons was arrested on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University, a historically Black college that was targeted by racist bomb threats last year. Students and parents are criticizing the university for initially denying reports that an armed man was on campus. [NewsOne]
The sitting sheriff of a populous Maryland county was indicted for allegedly conspiring with the owner of a gun shop to obtain machine guns so that the firearms seller could rent them out for profit. [The Washington Post]
Elijah Lewis, 23, was a skilled organizer — “miles ahead” in his ability to bring people together and raise funds even at his young age, a peer told The Seattle Times. Lewis and his nephew were shot last weekend in the Capitol Hill neighborhood as they made their way to a monster truck rally to celebrate the 9-year-old’s birthday. The boy survived the shooting, family members said, because Lewis used his own body to shield him from a spray of bullets. Lewis later died at a hospital.
The 23-year-old was involved in anti-gun violence efforts and worked with Africatown Community Land Trust, a group dedicated to preserving the city’s Black community. A member of the group described Lewis as a “protector” of his community. He was also an entrepreneur, who owned a cleaning company and a financial group. “His sight and thought process was: ‘I am right here in the struggle and I see my people struggling, and I want to help,’” his brother told the Times. “His last moments are indicative of who he was as a person.”
SWAT Police, Bomb-Sniffing Dogs, and Extremists: A Drag Queen Story Hour in America: “The pride flags that had been sewn together and nailed over the windows of Ohio’s Chesterland Community Church gave off the effect of makeshift stained-glass rainbow, filtering the light that typically pours into the airy sanctuary space. These were festive trimmings, put up on the eve of a planned Drag Queen Story Hour, but they served a darker, secondary purpose: to block a potential active shooter from having a clear line of sight to the drag queens while they read story books to kids the next day.” [VICE]
“Many times when there’s a shooting or a gun found in a school, people are like, ‘You’ve got to keep guns out of the schools.’ We have to keep them out of our communities.”
— Kenny Rodrequez, superintendent of a small school district near Kansas City, Missouri, on preventing gun violence in schools, to Chalkbeat