Tennessee’s Growing Gun Violence Problem
Tennessee has continued the systematic loosening of our already lax firearm laws and based on legislation filed for 2018, that trend will likely continue. Every year, the Tennessee Legislature rejects any effort to strengthen firearm laws and instead, passes legislation to further relax them. The gun lobby maintains that more guns more places for more people will make our communities safer. But, gun violence continues to plague our state and take the lives of our citizens, including children and teens.
- The total number of homicides in Knoxville and Knox County broke a nearly twenty year record in 2017. The majority of homicides were committed with guns and involved people who knew each other.
- In 2017, there were 107 murders in Nashville, the highest number since 1997. Even more alarming, Nashville has seen a 160 percent increase in murders over the past four years. The majority of homicides were committed with guns and involved people who knew each other.
- Although last year’s numbers were better, 2016 was the deadliest year in Memphis in two decades. The city logged 228 homicides. Last year, there were 200, a lower number but still an appalling one. In 2016, the rate of gun violence in Memphis was nearly double that of Chicago. The majority of homicides were committed with guns and involved people who knew each other.
- Many of the homicides in Tennessee cities involve young people. The shooters and victims are often teens.
- There were at least 15 mass shootings (4 or more injured or killed) in Tennessee last year. None occurred in a posted “gun-free zone.” Most occurred in homes, in parking lots, or at parties.
- Based on 2016 data from the department of health, Tennessee’s suicide rate is on the rise, especially in young people, ages 10-18. One person between the ages of 10 -24 commits suicide every four days, and every day, at least one person over the age of 45 takes their own life. Firearms remain the most common means of suicide death in Tennessee, accounting for 61 percent of the recorded suicide deaths in 2016.
- The Violence Policy Center released the annual report on female victimization last fall. Using the most recent data, Tennessee was ranked fourth in the nation for women murdered by men. Of the women murdered by men, 71 percent were killed with a gun. 96 percent were murdered by a man they knew, most often a man with whom they have had a romantic relationship. Although Tennessee has constantly been in the top ten states for women murdered by men, the most recent report was the highest the state has ever been ranked.
- Tennessee led the entire nation in negligent storage shootings last year. In 2017, 31 Tennessee children shot themselves or someone else with a negligently stored gun. Texas was second with 23. Of all U.S. cities, Memphis had the highest number of these shootings (14) while Nashville was fourth with six. Of the 31 incidents in Tennessee last year, 13 of the children died. The youngest victim was an infant who was unintentionally shot by a 3-year-old sibling. Of all the shooters, 18 were under age 13. Twelve were under age ten. In comparison, in 2016, there were 22 incidents and six deaths.
- In December, the TBI issued a first of its kind report detailing the nature and volume of reported firearm-related crimes over a four-year period. The report began with a letter from director Mark Gwynn who concluded by saying: “I am deeply concerned with the findings of this report reflecting a substantial increase in firearm-related crimes in our state. This increase puts an additional strain on Tennessee’s law enforcement resources and poses a serious threat to public safety.”
> From 2013 to 2016, firearm-related criminal offenses increased by 24.8%. They make clear that the increase is unrelated to the 2.4% increases in population.
> The number of reported murders involving a firearm increased by 54.7% in the four-year study period.
> Aggravated Assaults accounted for the largest portion of reported firearms-related crime, and increased by 30.5% from 2013 to 2016.
> Males (85.8%) were nine times more likely to engage in firearm-related criminal offenses than females (8.8%).
Keeping guns out of the wrong hands – the hands of children and prohibited purchasers such as criminals, abusers, and those adjudicated mentally ill – should be a high priority for our state.
- We do not require background checks for the private sale of guns. It is legal for an individual to sell a gun (handgun, hunting rifle, or assault-style rifle) to another individual without even a requirement to verify that they are a resident. Although many crime guns are stolen, there have been a number of documented cases of prohibited purchasers (gang members, domestic abusers, gun traffickers, or other criminals) purchasing guns in parking lots of gun shows.
- The current background check system used by licensed dealers (federal firearm license holders, or FFLs) has critical issues. In Tennessee, background checks are conducted by the TBI using their TICS (Tennessee Instant Check System) technology. TICS is actually considered better than the national system. However, audits conducted in 2015 and 2017 revealed that there is a lack of uniformity in how court data is uploaded into the system, meaning that some prohibited purchaser data is not being uploaded in a timely fashion or in some cases, not at all.
- Gun thefts from gun sellers and pawn shops are on the rise nationally and here in Tennessee. “Smash and grab” thefts where thieves smash windows and grab as many guns as possible occur with startling regularity. These guns end up being sold on the street, trafficked to other cities and states, and used to commit crimes. There are no federal laws pertaining to theft protection and Tennessee has no law requiring gun stores and pawn shops to have specific or enhanced security measures in place to prevent gun thefts. Enhanced security measures might include a requirement for gun sellers to have bars on the windows or lock their inventory in a safe at night.
Early Christmas morning, thieves with hammers smashed windows to gain entry and then easily smashed display cases to quickly grab dozens of firearms at Double Tap Tactical in Clarksville. The thieves were in and out in less than five minutes. This was at least the tenth “smash and grab” gun store robbery in Tennessee last year, resulting in over 200 firearms being stolen.
- Gun thefts in general are on the rise. Here in Tennessee, gun thefts from cars are common, especially since the passage of the “guns in trunks” law. Our state has no law requiring a gun to be stored securely in a vehicle – no law requiring that a gun be stored out of view, in a locked glove box or console, or even to lock the vehicle’s doors. In Tennessee, we do not even have a requirement to report a lost or stolen gun.
- Although the number of Tennessee kids injured and killed as a direct result of irresponsible gun storage continues rise, our state has no laws on the books that expressly address gun storage or hold adults responsible for keeping loaded guns secured and away from children. Although the gun lobby has succeeded in convincing legislators that simply telling children not to touch guns is an adequate means of prevention, the academic literature on the subject clearly says otherwise. In addition to the numerous published studies, a report issued this summer by the U.S. Government Accountability Office specifically addressed the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program and found that children who received the Eddie Eagle training were just as likely to pick up a gun as children who had not received the training.
Perhaps in 2018, we should listen to law enforcement and their admonitions about unintended consequences of the gun laws passed by our legislature. Instead of loosening gun laws, we should take a sober look at the growing gun violence in our state and look at evidence-based strategies for reducing it.