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Re-elected Tenn. lawmaker says you can't expel the gun control movement

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two lawmakers who were expelled from the Tennessee State House in April for breaking decorum rules have been reelected. Democrats Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones were temporarily removed from the legislature this spring after leading a pro-gun control demonstration on the House floor. Both lawmakers won back their districts last night in landslide special election victories. WPLN political reporter Blaise Gainey has been covering all of this and joins us now. Welcome.

BLAISE GAINEY, BYLINE: Hey. How's it going?

CHANG: Good. So what's been the reaction so far to these election results?

GAINEY: Well, to be honest, both were in heavily Democratic districts, so it was sort of expected that they'd win. And I don't really think anybody was too shocked by the massive landslide victory that both had. Both lawmakers had gained a lot of attention nationwide and in their districts for how unprecedented their - and we should note that the expulsion was also very short-lived. Both were able to come back in less than a week later.

CHANG: Right.

GAINEY: And a lot of people felt that the expulsion was too harsh of a punishment for them breaking a rule of decorum. Many also called it racist since the move was made by essentially an all-white Republican supermajority. Memphis' Justin J. Pearson said that this movement isn't going anywhere, and that came true. Pearson was on here now earlier today, and here's what he has to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTIN J PEARSON: You can't expel a movement. Our demands that we do something about gun safety and gun violence - those issues are front and center in this state, and this election victory proves that.

GAINEY: In Nashville, Representative Justin Jones said the victory sends a message that they're going to stand up and fight back.

CHANG: Well, we just heard Representative Pearson talk about gun safety and gun violence. Where does the debate on gun control stand now in Tennessee?

GAINEY: Well, Governor Bill Lee actually informally called a special session that's set to begin in about two weeks. He's hoping that lawmakers will use that time to pass an emergency risk protection order, but Republicans so far have batted down the idea and shifted the focus to mental health. And some have instead focused on separating individuals who are a threat to society from the community instead of removing their guns. Now, not a lot of people are sure exactly how they intend to do that or what that means, but we do expect not much to come out of special sessions since they've been so adamant on their stance against any sort of emergency risk protection order or red flag law. And so basically, we expect a lot of talk but probably not a lot of action.

CHANG: Well, what about Pearson and Jones? Do you think that they will be able to make a difference on this debate over gun control?

GAINEY: I think so. You know, I think if anything, they'll probably just be able to give it more attention nationwide because of their notoriety at this point. You know, these two young men have really been pounding the table ever since they've gotten into the General Assembly. And with their expulsions being broadcasted nationwide, they gained a lot of attention for themselves and the gun control issues in the state. As for if it'll make a difference, I would imagine that this could send a sign to the GOP that this issue and the two lawmakers won't be dismissed quietly. And they have more topics they want to focus on, from poverty, economic justice and lifting up the LGBTQ community.

CHANG: That is WPLN political reporter Blaise Gainey. Thank you so much, Blaise.

GAINEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Blaise Gainey