Rep. Jones brings infant-sized casket into Tennessee Capitol

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Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, carries a casket through the halls of the state Capitol with Rev. William J. Barber, right, Monday, April 17, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The recently reinstated Rep. Justin Jones carried an infant-sized casket into Tennessee's Capitol as protesters calling for gun safety legislation outside the Capitol were blocked from bringing caskets inside.

After passing troopers and security, Jones was then barred from bringing the casket onto the House floor, briefly passing it off at the doorway to fellow Rep. Justin Pearson, who was also recently reinstated.

Demonstrators led by Bishop William Barber II had marched in Nashville on Monday, demanding that lawmakers pass the gun safety legislation and stop using their authority to trample democracy. They carried several caskets symbolizing those lost to gun violence on Monday.

“The legislators are back, but returning duly elected lawmakers to their seat does not solve the problem,” Barber said, demanding that lawmakers “stop committing policy murder.”

The fatal shooting of six people at a Nashville private school last month kicked off a stream of calls for changes to Tennessee’s gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons, tougher background checks and a “red flag” law. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would keep firearms away from people who could harm themselves or others. So far, the Republican supermajority has refused.

Reps. Jones and Pearson, both Democrats, returned to the GOP-dominated General Assembly last week after being ousted for their role in a pro-gun control demonstration from the House floor. The episode has turned Tennessee into a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy and pressured lawmakers to address gun control in a state known for its lax firearm regulations.

On Monday, when protesters were blocked from bringing caskets into the Capitol, Jones carried an infant-sized casket inside and walked with protesters, including Barber, through the building. When he reached the House chamber, the sergeant-at-arms stopped Jones from bringing it onto the floor. As Jones entered the chamber after the session and tried unsuccessfully to get the attention of Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Pearson held the casket at the door. When Sexton left, he stopped for a moment to speak to a few protesters.