Protests after deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville
Counter protesters hold anti-trans signs outside the Tennessee State Capitol to call for an end to gun violence and support stronger gun laws after a deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 30, 2023. Reuters

Protesters flooded Tennessee's statehouse on Thursday to demand lawmakers stiffen gun laws following a school shooting in Nashville that left six people dead, three of them 9-year-old children.

More than a thousand people joined the protest organized 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!"

One mother - S'Kaila Colbert, holding her infant daughter - told MSNBC that her love of Christ called her to protest. "To be a voice for the children, to prioritize their safety, I felt a duty to be here," she said.

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

In the latest incident, 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 as yet unclear.

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.

John Drake, the Nashville police chief, 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.

The first funeral for one of the victims - 9-year-old Hallie Scruggs, whose father, Chad, is a senior pastor at the church - will be held on Saturday, the school said on Thursday. The family asked that it be closed to the public and media.