Tennessee lawmakers Tuesday abruptly ended a special session initially touted to improve public safety in the wake of a deadly elementary school shooting, but quickly unraveled into chaos over the past week as the GOP-dominant Statehouse refused to take up gun control measures and instead spent most of their time involved in political infighting.
In a particular heated moment, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson appeared to have a brief physical interaction where both accused each other of shoving within moments of the House chamber adjourning the special session.
Video captured by reporters on the House floor show Sexton, a Republican, making his way out of the House chamber as Pearson approached the speaker’s dais holding a sign calling for gun control. The two made contact as Sexton stepped to avoid a photographer, meanwhile other legislative members, staffers and security guards rushed to the front of the floor.
Yelling erupted from both the group of lawmakers on the floor and the protesters in the gallery above as House Republicans quickly left the chamber.
Pearson was one of the two lawmakers who was expelled by the Republican supermajority earlier this year. He has since been reelected to his legislative district and has remained critical of Sexton’s leadership.
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Tuesday’s tense standoff marked the latest turn in a session Republican Gov. Bill Lee initially organized in response to a shooter opening fire at The Covenant School in Nashville, killing three young children and three adults. Lee had hoped to convince the Republicans to pass legislation that would limit dangerous people from accessing guns, but the proposal never gained enough support.
Instead, lawmakers advanced just a handful of bills that made minor changes to state programs already in place. These included adding more money to advertise a state program offering free gun safes and codifying an executive order already signed by the governor that set a 72-hour period for reporting new criminal activity to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally told reporters Tuesday the special session was a success but said he believed more work would be done when lawmakers return for their regular legislative session in January.
Meanwhile, after lawmakers adjourned, Pearson and other Democratic lawmakers consoled a sobbing Sarah Shoop Neumann, a member of a group of Covenant School parents who had pushed for gun control and other changes for months. Pearson also led a prayer with Neumann and other Covenant parents.
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