NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Hundreds of white-clad congregants packed Olive Branch Church for Easter Sunday morning service, but for many, the joyous greetings were followed by eager talk of the removal of state Rep. Justin Jones after he protested enforcement measures. of arms in the house of Tennessee.
The church is located within the Jones district, and the holy day celebrations were intertwined with the frustration of many of his former constituents, who say he was simply trying to protect them from the accessibility of guns allowed by Tennessee law.
“It’s not right that we can’t even go to church or school or buy a carton of eggs without worrying about not coming home,” said Angela Hilt, 53, a member of the Olive Branch congregation who voted for Jones. . “We chose him to take a stand because he told us, ‘I’m going to take a stand for you. I am here to represent you. I feel like what he did was an absolute representation of what we the people expected.”
For Hilt, an Army veteran, along with many others, gun control had long been a pressing issue within his community, and the shooting at the Covenant School, where a former student fatally shot six people last month past, was another reminder of the need for common sense. legislation.
Republican lawmakers voted Thursday to expel Jones, along with Justin J. Pearson, for their protests on the House floor, arguing they had violated House rules. A vote to oust a third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, fell short.
Jones and Pearson are black. Johnson is white.
At the March 30 rally, the three legislators, dubbed the “Tennessee Three,” led supporters in calling for tighter gun safety after the Covenant School shooting.
Pastor Vincent Windrow, who pastors Olive Branch, one of the largest churches in the district, said Jones had visited the church in the past and spoke to congregants who, like Windrow, were excited when he took a seat.
“It’s the people who voted for them [Jones and Pearson] in. They were not appointed by their contemporaries. People voted for them for the causes they stood for,” he said.
In his Sunday sermon, Windrow, dressed in a shimmering white robe, spoke about the value and celebration of life.
Windrow said Jones understood his community and the challenges, including gun control.
“There have been a lot of mass shootings, and those are tragedies, but there are also everyday tragedies due to a lack of gun control,” he said. “People in this church have lost loved ones. People have lost husbands and wives, and there have been innocent bystanders who just live in a particular part of town and because of a lack of gun control, because I think the lack of compassion that our politicians can sometimes have towards the man common is daunting. .”
Windrow said Jones was speaking on behalf of her constituents because she understands their fears and struggles.
“It’s so crucial that people use their platform for the powerless, for the voiceless, so that their concerns can be spoken about. And if you remove the person who was able to speak up about their concerns, then you make those people even more powerless,” he said.
Tennessee has one of the weakest gun laws in the country, and had the 10th-highest rate of gun deaths and the 19th-highest rate of gun exports, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The state does not require background checks, gun owners’ licenses or waiting periods, and has no red flag laws, among other rules for gun owners.
The state also does not require reporting lost or stolen firearms, leaving the city with untraceable weapons. From 2020 to 2021, there was a 35% increase in gun theft from vehicles in Nashville, and more than 70% of all guns reported stolen in 2021 were stolen from vehicles, according to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.
“It’s like the Wild West,” congregation member Duncan “Chip” Motley, 65, said Sunday. Motley and his wife, Brenda, hosted a campaign event for Jones at his home last year and said Jones has always been fighting for gun control.
“That’s how he is. That’s all he talked about. This is not a show,” Motley said.
Brenda Motley, 59, said Jones was fighting for those who elected him.
“We are not asking you to take away your weapons, because it is your right, but have common sense. Put that in its place,” he said. “This is what people want. The people who work hard every day in our district want to be safe in their homes and they want to see their children safe in their schools, and they want to feel that they are protected by the legislators we choose to put in office to do those things. .
“When they couldn’t do that, when they tried to silence someone like Justin who chose to speak for the people, why are they there? Not for the people.”
Karlton Davidson, 48, another member of the congregation who voted for Jones, has a gun license and is taking training classes, said it is possible to have a “positive relationship with the ability to own a gun.”
“We are not totally against what we consider reasonable measures. What we oppose is not having the proper measurements for the types of weapons you can buy and the training you need,” he said.
Davidson said Jones was articulating his point in a comprehensive way that expressed the issue of reasonable gun laws.
He said he is unhappy. He feels his vote didn’t count because the candidate he chose, Jones, won but now he no longer represents him.
“It is a disgrace to our electoral process and it is unfortunate that it happened this way,” he said. “We are going to be negatively affected by this.”