Thousands protest gun laws at Tennessee state capitol

Protesters have flooded Tennessee’s statehouse to demand lawmakers stiffen gun laws following a school shooting in Nashville that left six people dead, three of them nine-year-old children.

More than one thousand people on Thursday joined the protest organised by local mothers, packing the building’s rotunda and forcing highway patrol troopers to clear paths in the crowd for lawmakers to walk through.

Demonstrators held aloft placards reading “No More Silence” and “We have to do better” while chanting “Do you even care?” and “No more violence!”

US school shootings, defined as any incident in which a gun is discharged on school property, number 90 so far this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database website. The 303 incidents last year were the most of any year in the database, which began in 1970.

In the latest, the shooter killed three pupils and three staff members at Nashville’s Covenant School. Police responded and killed the assailant, a 28-year-old former student at the school. A motive for the shooting was still unclear.

Nashville’s Department of Emergency Communications released some 911 calls related to the shooting on Thursday. In one, a woman tells a dispatcher she is hiding with children in the art room closet on the second floor and can hear shooting, as heavy booms are heard on the recording.

A child is heard saying “I want to go home!” at one point on the call. The woman then hushes the children and tells them to be quiet so they can stay safe.

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee this week delayed hearings on gun legislation that would expand access to firearms. The state in recent years has made it easier to acquire firearms and done away with the need for permits to carry concealed handguns.

State Representative Bob Freeman, a Democrat representing Nashville, on Thursday addressed lawmakers in the House chambers, 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, according to The Tennessean newspaper.

Nashville police chief John Drake said the shooter’s writings suggested plans to carry out shootings at other locations. Police said the shooter left behind a manifesto related to the attack.

The shooter was armed with two assault-style weapons and a 9mm handgun, which police later found were among seven firearms the assailant had legally purchased in recent years.

While the shooter targeted the school, housed in the Covenant Presbyterian Church and serving about 200 pupils from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, the individuals were slain at random, police said.

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