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Tenn. lawmaker faces backlash after asking students what gun they’re ‘comfortable being shot with’

Republican state Representative William Lamberth entered the House chamber as protesters chanted demanding action for gun reform laws at the Tennessee State Capitol on April 3, 2023 in Nashville, Tenn.Seth Herald/Getty

Confronted by students protesting at the Tennessee Capitol following a mass shooting at a school in Nashville, a state lawmaker posed a question that has drawn intense criticism.

Students from Nashville descended on the capitol Monday to rally against gun violence and advocate for stronger regulations after the March 27 shooting deaths of three children and three adults at The Covenant School. In a packed hallway, they encountered Republican state representative William Lamberth, who agreed to speak with them.

“You’re not going to like my answer, and look, I’m going to say that straight up,” Lamberth said to the students. “It’s not about this one gun.”

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Then he posed a question that some have deemed “heartless.”

“If there is a firearm out there that you’re comfortable being shot with, please show me which one it is,” he asked rhetorically. “Every single gun in the hands of a crazy person, a deranged person, a convicted felon — every single weapon out there can be — ” he continued before a student protester jumped in.

“When are you going to be more scared? When somebody’s walking on the street with a giant [expletive] gun for no reason. Nobody’s going to do good with that gun,” the unnamed student said.

“You could ban that specific gun and you are going to do almost nothing to improve y’alls’ safety,” Lamberth responded as protesters began shouting. “I’m sorry — that’s a fact.”

On Twitter, the backlash was swift.

“In the face of 6 being gunned down in school last week, our GOP won’t console or enact laws, rather they ask kids what weapon they would rather be shot with,” one person posted. Another described Lamberth’s question as “disgustingly cruel and monstrous,” while a physician offered to discuss with Lamberth the impact an “assault weapon has on a child’s body.”

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Lamberth met with the students alongside Representative Justin Jones, one of three House Democrats whom Republicans moved to expel from their seats later that Monday after they joined with protesters to demand action on gun control, the Tennessean reported.

Jones and a second representative were also stripped of their committee assignments for bringing a session to a halt during protests last Thursday. Final votes to expel the three Democrats, whose actions House leadership likened to an “insurrection,” will take place Thursday, the Tennessean reported.

Republicans in the Tennessee Senate appear poised to block all gun-related bills for the rest of the year, the Washington Post reported.

Similar scenes have played out in Tennessee and across the country following the latest mass shooting, yet another indication how deeply divided Republicans and Democrats are on guns.

Representative Andrew Ogles, who represents the Nashville district where The Covenant School is located, was denounced after a Christmas photo of his family toting guns circulated on social media. He later told reporters that he has no regrets about the picture. Fellow Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee told a reporter on the steps of the Capitol that “we’re not gonna fix” the issue of mass shootings.

Meanwhile, Representative Mike Rounds of South Dakota said during an appearance on CNN that Congress has “gone about as far as we’re going to with gun control.” And outside the House chamber in the Capitol building last week, Representative Jamaal Bowman of New York and Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky got into a heated shouting match over gun control.

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While Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy declined to speak about the issue, President Biden conceded last week he “can’t do anything except plead with Congress to act.”

See other reactions to Lamberth:


Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her @shannonlarson98.