The grieving parents of victims of a Nashville school shooting were among dozens of people who were thrown out of a special Tennessee Legislature boardroom while waiting to testify on gun control measures.
The grieving family members broke down in tears on Tuesday when Tennessee Highway Patrol officers forced them out of the second day of the legislative session when they were called to testify.
Republican State Representative Lowell Russell oversaw the meeting, where bystanders were thrown out for allegedly clapping, shouting and holding up signs after being ordered to stop.
“I should speak, I should testify,” Sarah Shoop Neumann said, sobbing and shaking outside the silent, GOP-controlled House subcommittee room.
Ms Neumann is a mother whose child attends Covenant School – a private Christian elementary school where three children and three staff members were killed in a mass shooting in March. The suspect, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, was killed after being confronted and killed by police.
Ms Neumann said she was later allowed again to testify against a bill that would allow more teachers to carry guns in schools. The House subcommittee pushed the bill forward, although its chances in the Senate look better.
“We’re just trying to do something,” Ms. Neumann later told reporters as other Covenant parents crowded around her. “It’s overwhelming.”
Republican Gov. Bill Lee initially recalled lawmakers to the Capitol to consider his proposal to keep guns away from dangerous people. But his bill was defeated by a Republican supermajority, whose legislative leaders have largely refused to address the issue.
Without any debate, three variants of similar Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) proposals, tabled by Democratic Rep. Bob Freeman of Nashville, collapsed immediately on Tuesday in the same House subcommittee that kicked out the public.
On the first day of Monday’s special session, House Republicans put forward new procedural rules that would severely penalize members found to be too disruptive or distracting and ban visitors from carrying signs in the Capitol and parliamentarian boardrooms.
The Senate and House of Representatives also agreed to severely limit public access to the galleries, where people have traditionally been allowed to watch their government in action.
Protesters defied the new sign ban on Tuesday by appearing in the House of Representatives chamber with pro-gun control messages on their bodies and clothing. Others wrote messages on their phones and held them up for lawmakers to see.
That opposition met with a harsher response as lawmakers broke into committee rooms to begin debating legislation.
Allison Polidor, a Nashville gun control advocate, was escorted from a hearing room for holding a sign that read “1 CHILD > ALL ARMS.”
“I did not say anything. I haven’t done anything. I held up a sign,” Ms. Polidor said.
MP Lowell Russell also warned that he could remove anyone from the room.
Shortly thereafter, another Republican lawmaker said his bill had stalled, which would allow those with a handgun permit to take guns onto campuses at elementary schools and colleges if they knew the school did not have armed security guards . The announcement drew applause from some gun control advocates in the crowd.
“Are we going to keep quiet and listen, or are we going to sit and gossip?” said Mr. Russell.
As some continued clapping, Russell said, “Okay, soldiers, let’s go ahead and clear the room.” Media representatives were allowed to stay and some members of the public who were testifying about the legislation were allowed in.
“We gave them three or four times not to erupt in the committee hearing and unfortunately after three, maybe four warnings, they carried on,” Mr. Russell later told The Associated Press. “Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you don’t follow the rules.”
Additional reporting by agencies