Crying Covenant School Parents Booted From Tennessee Special Session

Cheney Orr/Reuters
Cheney Orr/Reuters

The grieving parents of children who were massacred at The Covenant School in March or whose children were forced to hide as the shooter smashed their way through were among dozens of spectators that were booted out of a Tennessee subcommittee meeting about a new law that would allow for more guns on school campuses.

The chaotic scene was compounded by parents bursting into tears as troopers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol forced them out of the same meeting they’d been called to testify in, according to reports from the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.

Lowell Russell, a Republican state representative that oversaw the meeting, justified the mass ejection by claiming that spectators had continued clapping, yelling, and holding signs after being ordered to stop.

Legislators adopted new rules for attending subcommittee meetings on Monday, banning the public from holding signs in galleries and committees. Come Tuesday, some members of the public skirted the rules by holding up a book titled “Joaquin’s First School Shooting” and a “Covenant Strong” scarf. Others still held up signs in favor of gun restrictions—clearly to Russell’s ire.

Three women who held up signs were the first to be booted from the meeting. One woman yelled “this is not what democracy looks like” as a trooper walked her out of the meeting with his hands on her back. She was holding a small sign that read “1 Kid > All The Guns.”

The first to be thrown out, Allison Polidor, of Nashville, called her removal an infringement on her first amendment rights, telling The Tennessean through tears that “we’ve come to a point where you can’t hold up a sign. That’s not okay. That’s not democracy.”

As the room was cleared, The Tennessean reported that “the crying of multiple Covenant School parents could be heard” along with the shouts from angry protesters.

After the public was expelled, including those who’d sat quietly, state legislators went on to pass House Bill 7064. The bill allows enhanced gun permit holders, cops, and military members—both active duty and retired, on-duty and off-duty—to be able to possess and carry a handgun at any public school building, bus, campus, or grounds.

The legislation was passed in response to the shooting at The Covenant School, which left three staff members and three young students dead after Audrey Hale, a former student, went on a rampage–armed with an AR-style rifle, an AR-style pistol, and a handgun–before being shot dead by police.

Tuesday was the second day of a special legislative session called by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, to pass gun reform laws that’d make it harder for mentally ill people to buy a gun.

Lee’s efforts to restrict access to guns were quickly thwarted by Tennessee’s deep-red state legislature, however, who instead passed HB 7064 against the pleas of Sarah Shoop Neumann, the mother of a survivor of the school shooting, and others who testified through tears.

“The presence of firearms in schools is something I cannot speak against more strongly,” Neumann said, according to The Tennessean. “Teachers in this state already lack support in the state in terms of funding, staffing and being overwhelmed. And you want to arm them?”

Neumann said she spoke on behalf of herself, the Covenant Families Action Fund and a number of teachers at The Covenant School. She added that having guns on campus the day of the shooting would’ve likely made it a more severe tragedy.

“I don’t think they get what this means,” Neumann told WKRN about the Republican legislature. “We’re here for six people who were killed in our school. We’re just trying to do something…It’s hard to be here. It’s overwhelming.”

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