A special legislative session convened at the Tennessee State House concluded on Tuesday with a reported physical altercation between House Speaker Cameron Sexton and State Representative Justin Pearson.
The session was called by Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, aiming to address public safety concerns following the Covenant School shooting in March, which resulted in six fatalities. However, the multiple days of hearings were marked by escalating tensions and culminated in the Republican-led House failing to pass any legislation related to gun reform.
Video footage captured after the session adjourned depicted members of the public in the gallery chanting “vote them out” as lawmakers sought to leave the House floor swiftly. In a specific video, recorded by WTVF photographer Devin Crawford, Republican Speaker Sexton was observed walking past State Representative Justin Pearson and Democratic State Representative Justin Jones amidst the disorder. Pearson and Jones had previously faced temporary expulsion earlier in the year for participating in a gun control protest on the House floor, an action contested by Sexton and other GOP members who deemed it a breach of decorum.
The WTVF video displayed Sexton being accompanied by a security team, and he seemed to make contact with Pearson as he walked by. Pearson, a young Democrat, held a neon pink sign that read, “Protect Kids, Not Guns!” Notably, Republicans had recently implemented rules banning signs of any kind from House hearings and galleries during the special session, yet a judge overturned this ruling on the preceding Monday.
Responding to the physical encounter, Pearson appeared to nudge Sexton in return, prompting nearby lawmakers to intervene and separate the two individuals. The video concludes with Pearson being pushed backward by other individuals on the House floor, although he continues to direct words in Sexton’s direction.
Subsequent to the incident, the House speaker informed reporters that a member of his security team had placed their hand on his back and guided him to move to his right, where Pearson was stationed, in an effort to avoid a photographer present on the floor.
“Unfortunately, a few members were trying to corral us in,” Sexton commented, as reported by The Tennessean.
Another perspective of the moment, shared by The Tennessee Holler, a progressive news outlet, showed uncertainty regarding whether Sexton had been physically directed by his security team prior to the interaction with Pearson. This video, posted on X (formerly Twitter), captured Sexton departing the House floor and displayed both Pearson and Jones engaging with the House speaker moments before the physical clash.
Based on the video, neither Pearson nor Jones appeared to make physical contact with Sexton before he encountered Pearson.
Responding to WTVF’s video of the incident, Pearson took to his X account to write, “[Speaker Sexton] violently shoved me today while I held my ‘Protect Kids, Not Guns!’ sign. I’m infuriated by his actions but more infuriated by the INACTION of @tnhousegop to pass a SINGLE bill to prevent gun violence. This is how democracy dies. We must rise!”