About one in 20 U.S. adults—roughly 16 million Americans—own at least one AR-15-style rifle, according to polling from Iposo and the Washington Post. The poll traced the popularity explosion of semiautomatic rifles from their military origins into being one of the public’s most popular and deadliest weapons.
While these rifles have become the weapon of choice by many law-abiding citizens, AR-15-style rifles were used in 10 of the 17 deadliest mass shootings since 2012.
The deep feelings many gun owners have for their AR-15 rifles have morphed into a certain type of reverence where the weapon has become an idol.
Earlier this year, U.S. Representative Barry Moore, a staunch gun-rights supporter, proposed that the AR-15 rifle be the “National Gun of America.”
If the Alabama Congressman’s proposal receives approval by the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate, the AR-15 would take its place as one of the nation’s most coveted symbols, alongside the U.S. flag.
There were good reasons why the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which imposed the federal assault weapons ban, was enacted in 1994. Despite the lives saved by this legislation, it expired in 2004 and was never renewed.
The recent mass shooting in Nashville and the subsequent expulsion of two Black lawmakers from the Tennessee state legislature have given America another grim reminder of itself. The hypocrisy regarding protecting life and political retaliation remains in full display before the nation. The Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville, is the latest mass shooting involving a school or university in 2023.
According to an update from the Metropolitan Nashville Police, the 28-year-old shooter was a former student who “acted totally alone” as he stormed the school, randomly killing six individuals. It was concluded that the shooter planned the attack “over a period of months” and studied other mass murderers. Three nine-year-old students were killed. The adult victims were identified as custodian Mike Hill, Katherine Koonce, who is head of the school, and substitute teacher Cynthia Peak. Tennessee governor Mike Lee later revealed that his wife, Maria, was friends with Peak and Koonce “for decades.”
A school building is supposed to be a safe space and an environment set aside for learning. Every child has the right to attend school without the feeling of fear or the threat of being the future victim of a mass shooting. Lawmakers play an integral part in maintaining that safety, but lawmakers will always respond differently to the violence associated with mass shootings. While these acts of violence should automatically be seen through a moral lens, for many lawmakers, the killings are only viewed through a political and self-serving lens.
The Covenant School shooting shows us how GOP lawmakers were unmoved that the attacker studied previous mass shootings and his weapons of choice included two assault-style rifles. We are also reminded that having a conscience willing to save future innocent lives still does not exist with the GOP lawmakers, even when the children at risk are from white conservative families. Any one of us can become a future victim of a mass shooting, therefore what happens in Tennessee is a concern that impacts all of us.
America has been reminded that it is a nation where the AR-15-style rifle is the “National Gun of America,” even if it’s not by law. It is simple, some lawmakers are devoted to their guns, while others, like the Tennessee Three, are devoted to children and their safety. After the Covenant School shooting, the world was introduced to Representatives Justin Jones of Nashville, Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis, and Rep, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville as the Tennessee Three.
Leadership will arise amid a crisis and sometimes comes from unexpected places. People are tired of the empty “thoughts and prayers” and equally tired of mass shootings becoming normalized. The Tennessee Three became the voice that refused to remain silent. They made their House colleagues uncomfortable by exposing the hypocrisy and lack of concern for the constituents they were elected to represent and protect. They were willing to get themselves into “good trouble” as they stood with young protesters who called on Republican lawmakers to pass meaningful gun reform legislation. With their acts of courage in violating decorum rules in the House chamber, the Tennessee Three suffered political retaliation at the hands of their Republican colleagues.
Representative Gloria Johnson survived an expulsion vote, but Jones and Pearson were immediately removed from office. While the Tennessee House members succeeded in expulsing Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who is Black, no due process was given. Following the vote, Johnson said she couldn’t feel good about her survival due to the expulsion of her colleagues. Johnson, a white woman, and former teacher, believed Pearson and Jones were treated differently due to their race.
We must stand with the Tennessee Three as denunciations are coming nationwide. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland stood in solidarity with the two Black freshman lawmakers who were expelled.
In a statement, the 65-member Maryland caucus said they feared that the “unprecedented expulsion creates a chilling effect in state legislatures across the country and is a stain on American democracy. We stand ready to support our colleagues in Tennessee and protect the rights of Black legislators and our constituents across the country,” the statement concluded.
America has not heard the last from the Tennessee Three.