Tempers flare between lawmakers as Tennessee special session adjourns

Video obtained by WSMV4 shows an altercation between Sexton, Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis.
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 4:07 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – After Tennessee House speaker Cameron Sexton banged the gavel on the House floor Tuesday to end the week-long special legislative session on public safety, frustrations between Republicans and Democrats sparked.

Video obtained by WSMV4 shows an altercation between Sexton, Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Justin Pearson, D-Memphis. Jones and Pearson are seen approaching Sexton with signs that push for stricter gun laws. Sexton’s right shoulder then bumps into Pearson, which leads to a confrontation and shouting match between lawmakers.

Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, is seen in the video talking to Pearson as he and other lawmakers seemingly try to defuse a tense moment to end the special session. Sexton later said Pearson intentionally bumped lawmakers.

Democrats and Republicans both agreed during the special session that something needed to be done to help keep children safe in schools but came to a stalemate when it came to passing meaningful legislation to keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.

Gov. Bill Lee called a special session in response to the Covenant School shooting, where three 9-year-old students and three staff members were killed March 27. Lee said the point of the special session was to pass laws that kept guns out of the hands of “dangerous, unstable individuals who intend to harm themselves or others should not have access to weapons,” while preserving Second Amendment rights.

Republican lawmakers, who hold the majority in both the House and Senate, tabled substantial legislation that would have required stricter background checks before buying a gun. Lawmakers did agree on legislation that will allocate more than $100 million to school security and mental health workers, Lee said.

Covenant parents filled the House and Senate galleries throughout the special session, begging lawmakers to “do something.” Leaders of nonprofits founded after the Covenant shooting to advocate for stricter gun laws held press conferences nearly every day of the session, expressing their frustrations over what they described as inaction.

“We need legislators on both sides of the aisle to be able to have respectful, thoughtful debate regarding potential solutions to end gun violence, the leading cause of death for children 19 years of age and younger,” Sarah Shoop Neumann, a Covenant mom, said Tuesday. “Every legislator and constituent has a responsibility to cultivate this type of community. Those who are not of this mindset do not deserve a seat in the House or the Senate.”

At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Lee said all lawmakers and Tennesseans share the same goal: “We want our children to be safe.”