Three Tennessee state legislators did what they believed their constituents wanted: They demanded — loudly — that their colleagues act to curb gun violence in the wake of a March 25 school shooting that left three 9-year-old children and three adults dead in an affluent Nashville neighborhood.

"No action, no peace," they screamed as protesters joined them inside and outside the chamber.

For that act of civil disobedience, two of the three lawmakers were expelled from the Tennessee State House by their colleagues.

Though the interruption of official business violated Tennessee House rules (which are subject to the House Speaker's interpretation), I don't think the families of the six victims care much about those rules.

I think the victims' families care a great deal about the fact that a 28-year-old former student at The Covenant School was able to obtain a military-style firearm — despite a history of treatment for an emotional disorder — and use that weapon to murder Katherine Koonce, a Baton Rouge native who led the private Christian academy as headmaster; Cynthia Peak, a substitute teacher from Leeville; Mike Hill, a custodian; and 9-year-olds Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs.

Meanwhile, the political beatdown of Reps. Justin Johnson and Justin Pearson (and the near-removal of Rep. Gloria Johnson) has made them heroes and inspired renewed fervor for gun-control legislation — particularly among young people.

The targeted legislators, all Democrats, may not have anticipated the reaction to their decision to hold up House business as they took issue with that body's perceived indifference to losing several Tennesseans to gun violence.

What they did was wrong. Their intent was not. The punishment was absurd.

A GOP supermajority in the House voted overwhelmingly to expel two young, Black men. Gloria Johnson, a White woman, escaped expulsion by one vote. That left two legislative seats vacant. In Tennessee, local governing bodies fill vacant legislative seats on an interim basis until a special election is held.

On Monday, the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to return Jones to the House. Some see that as Nashville's elected leaders thumbing their noses at state legislators. I see it as the Council listening to their constituents. Jones beat his primary opponent 53%-46% and won his November 2022 election without opposition. 

Before the expulsions, hardly anyone outside of Tennessee had heard of the legislators now known as the Tennessee Three. The Republican majority's expulsion votes generated national news coverage and thrust the three Democrats into America's headlines.

I don't condone interrupting official government business, but like so many, I'm weary of seeing so much gun violence and so many mass shootings. So are the Tennessee Three — and they tried to do something to stop it.

They didn't try to overturn a presidential election without facts. Nor did they lead an insurrection, as some foolishly called their actions. None of the three used weapons to protest, or carried zip-ties. They didn't shout obscenities, call for a hanging or soil the chamber with feces or urine.

This wasn't a race thing, either.

The two expelled lawmakers are Black. All but one of the Covenant School shooting victims were White.

This is about easy access to handguns and automatic weapons. People across the country — a clear majority of Americans, according to every honest poll — believe the only way to reduce shooting deaths is by reducing the number of guns. But most state and national lawmakers disagree.

Louisiana hasn't expelled any legislators in recent history, but gun issues are being discussed in Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana Freedom Caucus, and similar caucuses across the nation, oppose gun legislation as a part of their "life, liberty and property" agenda. That agenda includes "constitutional carry," which allows adults to carry a handgun, openly or concealed, without a permit. They oppose pending "red flag" legislation that would allow law enforcement to temporarily disarm someone who clearly might injure or kill others.

No single piece of legislation will end gun violence and mass shootings, but we should deter such incidents by doing more than chipping away at the problem.

The Tennessee Three are getting a lot of attention, but let's remember why they raised their voices. Let's also remember the faces of Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney and Hallie Scruggs; custodian Mike Hill; school head Katherine Koonce, and substitute teacher Cynthia Peak.

Legislators have a duty to represent their constituents. They should not be punished for also representing the victims of gun violence.

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