Peaceful protests lead the way as Tennessee special session begins

Rep. Justin Pearson leads gun reform march ahead of special session
Posted at 9:32 PM, Aug 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-21 22:36:30-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Protesters supporting several ends of the gun debate gathered outside Legislative Plaza on Monday, as the special session began.

The day began with Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, leading a group of lawmakers and gun reform advocates on a march to the TN Capitol.

Chants of “Whose house, our house,” could be heard along with chants of “Protect children, not guns.”

These were mothers, parents, lawmakers and everyone in between.

We saw members of The Equity Alliance, Moms Demand Action, Gideon’s Army, and the Middle Tennessee chapter of the National Action Network.

Sheryl Huff is the president of the National Action Network Middle Tennessee chapter and says it didn’t matter so much which groups were represented because their goals for this special session were virtually the same.

Huff says she’s seen far too many young people fall victim to gun violence, so she’s doing whatever she can to make sure lawmakers never forget the lives we’ve lost.

“We want the governor, we want the senators, we want the representatives, we want people to talk about gun violence. How are we going to stop them? What are we going to do? We need to pass laws. We need to talk to people and look at these people who are losing their lives over guns,” Huff said.

Leeann Hewlett of Moms Demand Action, also took part in the march and made sure to mention the widely talked about extreme risk protection bill that Republican lawmakers have since said is a non-starter this session.

“Twenty-one states have extreme risk order protection laws. There’s no reason that Tennessee can’t have one. We can do things to make sure that guns stay out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Hewlett said.

Tennessee lawmakers have been told to stick within the parameters of a certain set of topics which only vaguely leaves room for someone to present a version of an extreme risk protection bill.

Chavez Lopez is a gun rights advocate who sat on the steps of the Capitol holding a sign that read: “Guns save lives.”

Chavez Lopez stands outside Capitol building in support of gun rights
Nashville-native, Chavez Lopez proudly displays sign outside of Capitol supporting gun rights.

We asked him what he thought about the idea of an extreme risk protection bill and he acknowledged that it’s a tough issue, but ultimately there are other solutions.

Lopez pointed to Gov. Bill Lee’s commitment to placing school resource officers at every school as a way to protect children without sacrificing second amendment rights.

“It’s a very hard issue to agree on because your solution is to take away the guns and my thing is what the legislators did before the special session was they gave money to harden the schools and put a safety officer in all the schools and they have a firearm which would hopefully deter what would be a school shooting,” Lopez said.

Lopez was in plain sight as gun reform advocates walked past to watch Rep. Pearson's swearing-in ceremony.

There wasn’t much conversation and for much of the day, Lopez was one of three visible gun rights advocates.

A few hours later and we met Shaun Kranish of, as he and two other men stood outside the Capitol armed with rifles.

Kranish said they made the trip from Spring Hill to remind lawmakers that gun reform advocates are not the only ones who want their voices heard.

One man held a sign above his rifle that read “Protect our kids” which was not unlike the message from parents who protested hours earlier.

Shaun Kranish and members stand armed in support of gun rights
Members of "" stand outside the Capitol armed with rifles, while carrying a sign that reads "Protect our kids."

Kranish however explained that the difference is his group believes there’s a world where lawmakers can protect children without infringing on second amendment rights.

We asked Kranish what his thoughts were on an extreme protection order law and he described it as an unrealistic solution.

“If somebody did something wrong, then prosecute and jail them. If someone is unstable, they can be instituted for a temporary time period and taken out of the public so they can’t hurt anybody. If you take away somebody’s guns, you probably won’t get them all. If you come to my house to take away my guns, I guarantee you that you won’t get them all. I’ve got guns all over the place,” Kranish said.

Kranish made it clear he’s not a fan of law enforcement and said he doesn’t trust someone else to interpret what’s considered a risk.

We asked if the firearms Kranish and others were carrying were loaded and they declined to answer. Meanwhile, Tennessee Highway Patrol Troopers were near Kranish as the session ended and gun reform advocates walked past.

There was some dialogue with Kranish and his colleagues, but most gun reform advocates walked by after the long first day.

Members of the Proud Boys were seen outside the Capitol steps earlier in the morning but weren't seen again after the first couple hours.

Those we heard from said they wanted to keep all debate as civil as possible, with hopes of focusing their attention on what happens inside the Capitol and not what happens outside.

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