Tensions Rise as ‘Tennessee Three’ Regain Seats

Democratic Tennessee state representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones were both reinstated to their respective seats this week after being expelled for their participation in a gun control demonstration. With growing frustration and divisions in the Tennessee legislature, the return of the two members has ignited protests and additional political polarization.

Jones, who faced expulsion alongside Pearson, was reportedly involved in a May 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in Nashville, during which he walked on top of a police car. Charges were initially brought against Jones and fellow activist Jeneisha Harris but were later dropped. The involvement of Jones in the protest raises questions about the impact this could have on his future political career.

Before being sworn back in, Pearson delivered an inflamed speech targeting Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton. He claimed that the Republican Party in Tennessee was attempting to silence their fight against gun violence by expelling him and Jones. Pearson stated, “My mother says what the devil meant for bad, God meant for good,” implying that Sexton’s actions have ultimately led to the revival of their movement.

In response to the outcry for new gun control restrictions in the Volunteer State, Gov. Bill Lee (R) has called for the creation and passage of “order of protection” legislation to prevent those deemed threatening by law enforcement from purchasing firearms.

However, Lee faces challenges within his party as many Tennessee Republicans have resisted gun restrictions. State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R) emphasizes the primacy of the Constitutional right to bear arms and the need for caution when proposing new laws.

Despite Lee’s efforts, some remain skeptical that any substantial changes will be made, believing that his proposal might be an attempt to appease the growing frustrations in Tennessee. For new gun laws to pass, they would require the support of roughly 25% of Republicans in the House, 30% in the Senate, and 100% of Democrats in both chambers.
Pearson and Jones’s reinstatement has highlighted the Tennessee legislature’s deep divisions. In addition, it has sparked debates over political polarization in the state. As tension continues to mount, the potential for changes to Tennessee’s gun laws remains uncertain.