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US protesters flood Tennessee statehouse, demand end to gun violence

A demonstrator displays a picture of the victims of the Covenant school shooting on their phone inside the Tennessee state capitol during a protest against gun violence in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 30, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

More than a thousand protesters flooded Tennessee's State Capitol on Thursday demanding stringent action on gun violence days after six people were killed in a mass shooting at an elementary school in the city.

Demonstrators, including parents and students, gathered outside the statehouse in central Nashville and called for immediate action on gun control in the wake of the recent deadly incident and in protest at recurring massacres in schools.

The protesters held aloft placards that read, "No More Silence," and "We have to do better," while chanting "Do you even care?" and "No more violence!"

Local media said the protest was peaceful, but some demonstrators shouted and jostled around lawmakers as Tennessee highway patrol troopers cleared paths for them to enter the House chamber.

"We're here because we still believe that we can make a change. We can. It's a tough state, I get it," said organizer Maryam Abolfazli, cited by local TV station WKRN.

S'Kaila Colbert, carrying her infant daughter, said she had joined the protest "to be a voice for the children,” and “to prioritize their safety.”

The tragic shooting in the US state of Tennessee on Monday morning left three children and three adults dead at a private Christian elementary school.

The attacker, a 28-year-old former student of the school who was armed with two assault-style weapons, was killed during a shootout with a five-member police team, reports said.

After the Nashville attack, US President Joe Biden again called on Congress to reinstate the national assault rifle ban, which existed from 1994 to 2004.

Republican-led Tennessee has in recent years loosened gun laws. In 2021, Governor Bill Lee championed a law passed that year allowing anyone aged 21 and above to carry a firearm, both openly and concealed, without a permit.

Bob Freeman, a Democrat representing Nashville, addressed lawmakers in the House chambers on Thursday, calling for "common-sense" gun reforms, including background checks and red-flag laws to prevent individuals from possessing firearms who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others.

Freeman told his colleagues they had to respond to demonstrators whose chants could be heard outside the chambers. "They're out there right now. They're begging for us to do something," he said.

Monday's incident in Nashville marked the country’s 90th school shooting this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database​​​​​​.

Democrats and gun safety activists have argued that passing stricter laws would reduce the violence, whereas Republicans and gun rights advocates argue that arming teachers would act as a deterrent.

The United States, a country of around 330 million people, is awash with some 400 million guns. Efforts to ban assault rifles have faced opposition from Republicans who are staunch supporters of the constitutional right to bear arms.

A Gallup poll from October 2022 showed a majority of Americans are in favor of gun control, with a 57% majority of all Americans saying they want stricter laws covering the sale of firearms.

US lawmakers lock horns over gun control

Earlier on Wednesday, a heated debate broke out in the halls of Capitol Hill when Democratic Representative Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal and advocate for gun control, was confronted by Republican colleague Thomas Massie.

The exchange occurred just outside the House chamber and was widely circulated on social media after several journalists posted a video of it.

"They're all cowards! They won't do anything to save the lives of our children. Cowards," Bowman said to reporters assembled outside the House chamber.

Massie, a Kentucky Republican, walked up to Bowman and asked him what he was talking about. "I'm talking about gun violence!" Bowman shouted.

Massie told Bowman there had never been a shooting at a school where teachers were allowed to carry guns.

“More guns lead to more deaths,” Bowman responded. “Look at the data. You are not looking at any data."

Massie responded by asking Bowman if he would co-sponsor a bill to repeal the federal ban on carrying guns in schools.

Gun injuries sending more Americans to emergency rooms

A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday showed that emergency rooms in the US saw a significant rise in the number of patients with gun injuries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study said of all age groups, those between 0–14 years experienced the largest increase in the proportion of gun injury emergency room visits.

About 40 children and young adolescents with gun injuries visited emergency rooms each week on average in 2022, up from 2019's weekly average of about 29.

The CDC said the COVID-19 pandemic created challenges that might have influenced the risk for firearm injury among children and adolescents, such as social isolation, limited access to mental health services, heightened housing and financial insecurity, and more time spent at home, potentially increasing access to guns.

Previous studies have shown that US gun deaths surged during the pandemic, with African-Americans at least four times more likely to be killed by a gun than the overall population, and 12 times more likely than a white person, according to CDC data.

Gun violence provokes nationwide fears in US

Researchers and analysts say gun violence has been hotting up in the United States in recent years and has sparked widespread fears across the country despite sustained public opinions in favor of gun restrictions.

There have been 129 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Overall gun violence has killed 9,870 people in the U.S. as of Monday, including 398 teens and children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun violence surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children in 2020. In 2021, there were over 3,597 children killed by gunfire.

“Clearly, America has a gun fetish. We embrace violence. Look at our movies, look at our pop culture, guns are everywhere, and they are glorified. They are held in higher esteem than many other things in our culture. And that's because of this notion of American rugged individualism," said analyst Joseph Williams.

"And this American myth is built on a lot of perquisite notions and on a lot of bad information. Guns typically are not solutions to these types of problems. Guns cause more problems."

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the largest gun-owners association in the United States, is making things more difficult, as it is impeding gun-control legislation in the country despite gun control measures being widely supported by the public.

"The NRA is still very influential, not necessarily from a campaign donor standpoint, they still hand out money a lot to Republicans, and make sure that their voices are heard at Capitol Hill, but in terms of mobilizing voters," Williams added.

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