The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Special session of Tennessee General Assembly addressing gun violence sparks protests by Vanderbilt Students Demand Action

The session was convened on Aug. 21 in response to the March 27 shooting at The Covenant School.
The+Tennessee+State+Capitol+Building%2C+as+photographed+July+28%2C+2022.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FMiguel+Beristain%29
Miguel Beristain
The Tennessee State Capitol Building, as photographed July 28, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

An ongoing special session of the Tennessee General Assembly convened on Aug. 21 to address issues of gun reform, mental health and public safety in response to the shooting at The Covenant School on March 27. Vanderbilt and the Tennessee chapters of Students Demand Action co-organized protests against proposed bills that advocate for more firearms in schools. 

Public access to this session was severely restricted in advance of the session, and the demonstrators who were allowed inside the Capitol were prevented from fully accessing the halls of the building by ropes and state troopers. On the opening day of the session, members of the House also passed rules of decorum to govern the special session proceeding but not future proceedings. Under these rules, representatives who cause a “material disruption” or who are deemed “unruly” by the House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R – Crossville) can be silenced and, thus, barred from participation in discussion. This policy comes after Representatives Justin Jones (D – Nashville) and Justin Pearson (D – Memphis) were expelled from the House this past April due to speaking without being recognized by Sexton. Both were later reinstated.

Vanderbilt College Democrats President Chase Mandell described these rules as a “direct threat to Tennessee democracy.” Vanderbilt College Republicans did not respond to request for comment.

Three protestors were removed from the Tennessee State House Civil Justice Subcommittee on Aug. 21 after violating another new ban on holding signs in the gallery. Shortly after the forceful removal of these demonstrators, the entire audience was cleared. The session was then declared closed to the public in response to several audience members clapping at the removal of other audience members. On Aug. 23, a Davidson County judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Tennessee House, blocking its ban on displaying signs in session. Senior and independent activist Katey Parham described these bans as “frightening.”

“In addition to some frightening bills, the scariest part is the attack on democracy,” Parham said. “From banning paper signs — which was temporarily blocked by a judge — to silencing our representatives, democracy is not well in Tennessee.”

After tabling many bills in committees, the Senate adjourned until Aug. 28 after it passed just four bills, including one that provides funding for the special session. Another bill provides free gun locks to Tennesseans and exempts taxes on sales of gun safes and gun safety devices. The other two bills require the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to update their background check database more swiftly and call for an annual TBI report on child and human trafficking in Tennessee. 

The House also adjourned until Aug. 28 after passing several bills, including funding for higher education safety grants and a bill that will block the release of child crime victim autopsies. 

We hoped the special session would be an opportunity for constituents’ voices to be heard to accomplish common sense, substantive gun legislation,” Mandell said. “Instead, 20 gun safety bills sponsored by Democratic senators were not even considered for debate while citizens are being removed from committee rooms.”

Junior Helena Spigner, leader of the Tennessee Chapter of Students Demand Action, condemned the legislature’s actions on behalf of SDA.

“We had high hopes that Governor Lee and majority leaders would take meaningful action on gun violence during the special session next week. But the governor and lawmakers have fallen short yet again,” Spigner said in the email. “Not allowing meaningful legislation  is a slap in the face to the lives lost at the Covenant shooting and to those who are victim to our gun violence epidemic every day. Instead, lawmakers have proposed bills that would hurt Tennesseans and make us all less safe.”

In a message to The Hustler, Spigner called the protests “inspiring” but emphasized that SDA’s work goes beyond protests by speaking with representatives to create long-term change.

“Our goal is to spread awareness. We need everyone to see that this is a problem that impacts us all,” Spigner said. “We want the world to know that we will continue to make our voices heard in any meaningful way possible.”

Spigner also said she was “deeply saddened” by the removal of spectators from the audience of the committee session. However, she believes this act brought more attention to the messages of those removed.

“Despite what happens this week, we will continue to show up,” Spigner said. “We will continue to advocate for every person that has been impacted by the gun violence epidemic.”

Parham said she thinks an important way to respond to her concerns about gun reform is by voting in the upcoming elections. 

“Through this experience, I learned that lives could be saved at the ballot box,” Parham said. “People across Tennessee need to mobilize to vote out of office the representatives who choose politics, money, and greed, over the people they serve. Representatives should be beholden to you, not special interest groups.”

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About the Contributors
Jacob Stoebner
Jacob Stoebner, News Editor
Jacob Stoebner ('26) is from Franklin, Tenn., and is majoring in biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering. When not writing for The Hustler, you can usually find him running, hiking in parks around Nashville or reading. He can be reached at [email protected].
Miguel Beristain
Miguel Beristain, Senior Staff Photographer
Miguel Beristain (’24) is a philosophy and cellular and molecular biology double major in the College of Arts and Science from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When not shooting for The Hustler, he can usually be found playing Magic the Gathering, exploring new restaurants or practicing guitar. He can be reached at .
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