Thousands in Nashville form miles-long human chain linking arms for gun control
Demonstrators hold hands and lock arms with each other during the 'Arms Are for Hugging' protest for gun control legislation, Tuesday, April 18, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Participants created a human chain starting from Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, where victims of The Covenant School shooting were taken on March 27, and ending at the Tennessee State Capitol. | George Walker IV / AP

NASHVILLE—Thousands of demonstrators linked arms to form a human chain over three miles long to support efforts for gun reform. On April 18, a line of protesters stretched from Monroe Carrell Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University to the State Capitol.

The demonstration was organized by Voices for a Safer Tennessee, a community coalition, to support the push for gun control in the state legislature. This was truly historic, as this was the first time that such a human chain demonstration has been organized in Nashville’s history.

The human chain protest was also organized in response to the massacre of three nine-year-old children and three staffers at the Covenant School on March 27. It also targeted the refusal of the Tennessee Legislature to even consider any gun reform measures following that massacre.

The human chain commenced at 5:15 pm and ended a half-hour later at Legislative Plaza in front of the Capitol. There, the human chain participants were joined by the “Tennessee Three”—State Reps. Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson—who took part in prayer and song. The songs included “What Are We Fighting For.”

The human chain was over 5,000 strong. Organizers had requested at least that number for the linking of arms. Over 9,000 signed up.

This event followed on the heels of another massive demonstration just the day before on April 17. This was the “Caskets to the Capitol” demonstration that had among its leaders Poor People’s Campaign co-chair Rev. William Barber II. That march started at McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville, a few blocks from the Capitol.

There was a rally at the church ahead of the march. Barber began with a prayer and the very poignant words, “Our tears will water the ground,” and said, “Some suffering is not redemptive, some suffering is just evil.” Thousands gathered at the church for the march.

The Caskets to the Capitol march was called Tennessee Moral Monday, which is part of a movement organized by Repairers of the Breach, a non-profit whose objective is to build a “moral fusion coalition,” and the Poor People’s Campaign. On Monday, the marchers left the church in lines of four, ten feet apart. They carried caskets to symbolize the six victims of the Covenant School massacre. There were 46 pallbearers for the coffins.

Upon reaching the Capitol, some of the marchers attempted to enter the building with the caskets but were refused entry, including Rep. Justin Jones, who carried a baby-sized casket. The demonstrators then put the caskets on the steps of the Capitol.

The demonstration concluded inside the Capitol, where many of the marchers waited to protest proposed legislation to arm teachers. To their disappointment, discussion of that measure was tabled to another session. The marchers continued to hold a rally at the Legislative Plaza.

Speakers at the Plaza linked the struggle for gun reform to the general democratic struggle, connecting it to the issues of voter suppression, health care racism, housing, and poverty.

Incredibly, but perhaps not surprisingly, is that the response of the Republican-controlled legislature has been to pass a bill to protect those many call the “Merchants of Death”—gun manufacturers, ammunition dealers, and gun sellers—from lawsuits.

Further putting the Republican lawmakers on the spot is a new poll conducted by Middle Tennessee State University indicating that over 80% of Tennesseans favor some gun reform. The GOP leaders in the House will not even allow a discussion of the issue that is taking so many innocent lives, however.

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Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.