Tennessee Republicans on Tuesday ended a special session devoted to public safety without passing any new restrictions on firearm access, bringing to a close an emotional and chaotic week that was punctuated by tearful pleas from parents whose children survived a mass shooting at a Nashville Christian school.
The special session, ordered by Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, over objections from within his own party, had ostensibly been an opportunity for lawmakers to help prevent a repeat of the violence at the Covenant School, where three students and three adults were killed.
But it instead offered a bitter epilogue to the vitriolic final weeks of the regular session in April, during which the Republican supermajority ignored thousands of protesters calling for modest gun control and then expelled two Black Democrats for leading a protest from the House floor.
“I don’t care what political side you’re on,” said Mary Joyce, a Covenant parent, her voice raw with tears and anger, after the legislature adjourned. “These are our children.”
With the two Democrats re-elected and back in their ranks, House Republicans muscled through new rules of conduct that would allow them to silence any member deemed to have repeatedly spoken out of turn or off topic. On Monday, that rule was used to silence Representative Justin Jones, one of the expelled lawmakers, sparking an outcry.
Republicans also enacted a ban on signs — already limited to the size of a printer paper — that led to a few women being escorted out for holding signs. The women sued on First Amendment grounds, and a Nashville court overturned the ban.
The crackdown on dissent further inflamed tensions over the special session, which Democrats had dismissed as inadequate and conservative Republicans had resisted as a possible infringement on the constitutional rights of gun owners.
And it left a core group of Covenant School parents — speaking for themselves, their children and the parents of the three 9-year-olds killed — to spend day after day publicly reliving the trauma of the attack.
Mr. Lee, who lost two family friends in the shooting, had called for an order of protection law that would temporarily allow firearms to be confiscated from those deemed by a court to be a threat to themselves or others. Democrats and experts had pushed for far tougher legislation.
But Senate Republicans quickly shelved all but a few bills. They gaveled in and out of committees in just minutes with little debate.
House Republicans, while willing to take up more legislation, panned any firearm restriction proposals and focused on other mental health bills and a push to toughen juvenile crime sentencing.
Ultimately, the legislature sent Mr. Lee just a few policy bills after barely six days of work, some of which codified existing policy in Tennessee, including measures that would require the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations to produce a comprehensive report on human trafficking, ensure faster updates to the state’s background check system and incentivize the safe storage of guns at home.