A loved one has just been murdered at school days prior in yet another mass shooting and, rather than doing something about it, your legislators make it even easier to obtain and carry a firearm in states around the country, including your home of Tennessee. Over 7,000 people protest the injustice alongside you at your state capitol, imploring lawmakers to advocate for gun reform and regulation. You would think that, with so many voices rising in unison, your elected officials employed to represent you would find it impossible to ignore such a display. This logic, however, would prove to be unsupported by your reality, one in which Representatives Mr. Pearson and Mr. Jones are expelled from the House for speaking up for you and others who needed their help.
What sort of democratic government boasts the expulsion of two House Representatives simply because they are voicing the concerns of the people? When considering the core values of representative democracy, it seems the answer is that such a government is experiencing severe democratic backsliding, and it hardly resembles a democracy at all. As voiced by Margaret Renkl in her New York Times article:
“To remove legitimately elected officials from the chamber to which voters sent them — and to do so precisely because those officials were representing the wishes of voters — is nothing short of authoritarianism” (Renkl, 2023).  Margaret Renkl, 2023
Scapegoats vs. Factual Arguments
Something I find equally disturbing is the haste with which many right-leaning government officials and voters have had in placing the blame of the Covenant School Shooting, not on the ability of the shooter to obtain and openly carry their guns, but on the fact that the shooter was speculated to identify as transgender. When faced with the argument that the shooter had been struggling with and was being treated for documented emotional disorders, many conservative leaders are dismissive, mindlessly demonizing members of the LGBTQ+ community and furthering their crusade against the ‘liberal agenda’. It is illogical and maddening that these officials refuse to take partial responsibility or acknowledge the fact that, if Tennessee’s gun laws weren’t so lenient, this individual may never have obtained their guns in the first place.
The opposing argument that the shooter’s gender identity has any correlation to the fact that they carried out a mass shooting is simply not rooted in factual evidence. The individual, who has not been confirmed to have been trans male, was assigned female at birth. According to research conducted by The Violence Project, since 1966, 97% of mass public shooters in the United States have been cisgender male.  Additionally, the Covenant School shooter would be one of the first transgender people documented to have conducted a mass shooting, not one of many. They were an outlier, but many leaders claim, while disregarding statistical evidence to the contrary, that they were a clear example of criminal tendencies found in the LGBTQ+ community.
A key red flag signaling democratic backsliding, as explored by Levitsky and Ziblatt in How Democracies Die, is the presence of prejudiced populists in office.  We are seeing this today across the nation, especially in the Tennessee legislature. To many, it is puzzling that those in power have brazenly fought against things like Drag Shows and books that mention the plight of racial minorities, but not the facilitators of violence on their children. These same leaders are outraged by abortion rights, claiming to be Pro-Life, but their behavior and work leads one to believe that they couldn’t care less about the lives of children living outside their mothers’ wombs. It can be argued that, if they are truly concerned with keeping the public safe and protecting their lives, they would seek to propose and pass legislation that would do just that. Unfortunately, many shootings are carried out by those who should not be able to legally purchase a gun due to an emotional disorder or addiction. These people need medical help in times of crisis, not an assault rifle! Legislators are not doing enough to prevent such individuals from purchasing firearms and, therefore, are not protecting the lives of those endangered by gun violence. These reasons, among others, sustain the argument that such legislators and officials are extremists who employ harmful rhetoric to capture the attention of the people, without protecting anyone but themselves.
Extremist leaders, especially those on the radical right, often employ specific tactics to manipulate the public, inspire paranoia, and deflect blame from themselves. As explained by Lipset, these leaders seek to identify and demonize marginalized groups of people in order to do so.  In the case of mass shootings in this country, officials like those in Tennessee seek to distract the masses from the part they have played in the dilemma by using harmful rhetoric against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Those identifying with the community have become scapegoats, pawns in the game of politics despite having little representation in their government or responsibility for the crisis of gun violence in America. This is a concept illustrated by Mercieca, who states that
“The dangerous demagogue who weaponizes communication does so to prevent themselves from being held accountable…from having to give good reasons and persuade” (Mercieca, p. 270, 2020). Jennifer R. Mercieca, 2020
Why does this matter?
The undeniable, factually backed truth is that our children are dying more rapidly than ever, and it’s not drag queens or history books that are killing them. Guns, and dangerous individuals who are able to obtain them without difficulty, are killing our children. Statistically speaking, 12 American children die each day from gun violence, which has become the leading cause of death among minors in this country . We need lawmakers who are willing to listen to what others across the aisle have to say, because the best way to ensure the safety of our children is by working together to create a world in which they can thrive. Bipartisan compromise is needed, not divisive rhetoric and hatred, in order for us to work towards gun reform and a brighter, safer future for all.
Sources Margaret Renkl. “As Young People March for Their Lives, Tennessee Crushes Dissent and Overrides Democracy”. The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/05/opinion/tenn-gun-protest-democrats-ejection.html  “97% of mass public shooters are men”. The Violence Project, 2023.  Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die, Crown Press, 2018.  Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Radical Right: A Problem for American Democracy,” The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 6, No. 2 (June 1955).  Jennifer Mercieca, “A field guide to Trump’s dangerous rhetoric,” The Conversation, Published: June 19, 2020 8.09am EDT Updated: June 19, 2020.  “17 Facts about Gun Violence and School Shootings.” Sandy Hook Promise, 4 Apr. 2023, https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/blog/gun-violence/facts-about-gun-violence-and-school-shootings/