A week after six people including three 9-year-old children were shot dead in a Nashville elementary school and two days before planned nationwide protests, thousands of students walked out of classrooms across the Tennesee capital on Monday to demand gun control laws.
The advocacy group March for Our Lives (MFOL)—founded after the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida—organized Monday's protest to urge state lawmakers pass gun control legislation including better background checks and a ban assault weapons.
"The purpose of the rally is to show that the community has had enough and we are demanding change from the Tennessee Legislature," MFOL national organizer Ezri Tyler explained to WKRN.
"It's not drag queens. It's not books. Children are dying because of guns."
"The message overall is we know that right now, Tennessee is engaging in this culture war, where they're harming our communities by banning drag, by banning books, banning gender-affirming care," Tyler added. "But if they actually cared about protecting kids, as they claimed they would address what kills every single day, which is guns."
Gun violence is the leading cause of death for U.S. children.
MFOL organizer Brynn Jones toldWKRN that "it hits closer and closer, the longer and longer that you're, you know, hearing these stories just being like that it's the same story over and over again.
"But then hearing it on Monday that it was in Tennessee, it was in Nashville, 20 minutes from where I grew up, 20 minutes from where I go to school, hit incredibly close to home and felt personal in a way that it usually doesn't," Jones added.
Thousands of students marched to Legislative Plaza near the Tennessee State Capitol chanting "stop gun violence, we will not be silenced" and other slogans. Video recorded inside the Capitol showed demonstrators confronting state Rep. William Lamberth (R-44) and asking him why lawmakers won't "ban assault rifles."
The LGBTQ+ advocacy group GLAAD tweeted: "It's not drag queens. It's not books. Children are dying because of guns. GLAAD stands with all of the students during today's walkout at the Tennessee State Capitol. Ban assault weapons—not drag performers, books, or lifesaving care for trans people."
However, Tennessee's Republican-controlled Legislature and GOP Gov. Bill Lee have gone in the opposite direction.
As The Associated Pressreports:
Already this year, Republican lawmakers have introduced bills that would make it easier to arm teachers and allow college students to carry weapons on campus. Democratic-led efforts to strengthen gun safety measures have faltered. On Tuesday, lawmakers delayed taking up any of the contentious gun-related bills, saying they wanted to offer respect to the community.
The most significant movement involves the state’s permitless carry law. In 2021, Lee led the charge to allow most adults 21 and older to carry handguns without first obtaining a permit that requires clearing a state background check and training. Thereafter, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson announced plans to relocate its headquarters to Tennessee due to the state's "support for the 2nd Amendment."
Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones (D-52) said that three Democratic lawmakers were kicked off their committees and threatened with expulsion for standing with their constituents and demanding gun control legislation.
Monday's protest in Nashville came before another youth-led gun control group, Students Demand Action, is set to lead nationwide student walkouts on Wednesday.
"Being a student shouldn't be a death sentence but once again, gun violence has forced its way into our schools, leaving nothing but pain, trauma, and tragedy in its wake," the group said in a preview of Wednesday's action. "We need more than thoughts and prayers. We demand action from our lawmakers now."
Students Demand Action continued:
School shootings like this are not acts of nature—no other peer nation allows students to be shot and killed in schools like this. And it's not just gun violence in our schools. In America and in Tennessee, guns are the number one killer of American youth, and Tennessee lawmakers have done nothing but gut gun safety laws, putting gun industry profits ahead of the safety of our children.
"We won't accept a country where gunfire can ring out at any moment, whether it's while grocery shopping at a supermarket, hanging out at a park in your community, attending a party, or going to a restaurant for dinner," Students Demand Action added. "We deserve more."