Gov. Bill Lee responds to questions during a news conference Tuesday, April 11, 2023. Credit: George Walker IV / AP

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It certainly has been a wild few days in Tennessee. Last week, Republicans in the Tennessee House of Representatives expelled two Black Democratic colleagues for joining in a rally for gun restrictions from the House floor. They violated House rules by going to the floor and speaking without permission.

One of the representatives, Justin Jones, was reappointed to his House seat on Monday. The other, Justin Pearson, returned to the House on Thursday.

The short-term expulsions — and the national outrage over them — did have an impact on the very issue that Jones and Pearson were advocating for: restrictions on firearms to reduce the gun violence that claimed the lives of six people at a private school in Nashville in late March.

On Tuesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that he had signed an executive order to strengthen background checks for gun purchases. He also called on lawmakers to create a type of red flag-type system to temporarily keep guns away from dangerous people.

We won’t pretend that these will solve the gun violence epidemic, but Lee’s action shows that public attention can lead to movement, albeit slow and incremental, on gun laws.

“The truth is that we’re facing evil itself, and we can’t stop evil, but we can do something,” Lee, a Republican, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “When there is a clear need for action, I think that we have an obligation, and I certainly do, to remind people that we should set aside politics and pride and accomplish something that the people of Tennessee want to see get accomplished.”

His remarks and action are a strong repudiation of the numerous Republicans who have said nothing can be done to stop gun violence.

Lee faced quick backlash from gun rights supporters, which reiterates that any meaningful action to reduce gun violence is far from a sure thing in the Volunteer State. The Senate majority leader, Republican Jack Johnson, said Wednesday that he opposed red flag laws and called for enforcement of existing laws.

The Tennessee Firearms Association accused the governor of listening to the “mob” and to “emotional calls for gun control.”

We’d point out that thousands of people marching to and rallying at the state capitol, as happened in Nashville last week, aren’t a “mob.” Instead, they were students, teachers, parents and others pleading with their elected representatives to do something to reduce the fear and death toll from gun violence. Yes, some of them were emotional, but strong emotions are a reasonable and expected reaction to so much death and injury. They were not violent, despite Republican claims.

It shouldn’t have taken an unprecedented turn of events -and the spotlight of national media attention — to prompt Lee’s “pivot,” as he called it. But these small steps in Tennessee are a reminder of the power of people to change minds and hold elected representatives accountable.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...