When you talk about crime in Tennessee, guns are the elephant in the room. According to the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, gun-related violent incidents topped 1,600 in 2022, up 28% from just over 1,250 such incidents in 2016, the year Strickland took office, reported MLK50. Guns are everywhere in Tennessee, and that’s how the Republican super-majority in the state legislature likes it. In 2021, the legislature made it legal for almost anyone to carry a firearm without a permit.
After the Covenant School shooting in Nashville in March, where a former student killed three children and three teachers with a legally purchased AR-15 assault rifle, a student-led protest movement urged the legislature to pass red flag laws, which would allow authorities to confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
When Democratic Representatives Justin J. Pearson, Justin Jones, and Gloria Johnson brought the protests into the House chamber, Republicans responded by expelling Pearson and Jones, both of whom are Black. (Johnson, who is white, was spared expulsion by one vote.) President Joe Biden called the expulsions “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.” Both Pearson and Jones were easily re-elected to their seats earlier this month, in time to participate in the Aug. 21 special session called by Gov. Bill Lee, ostensibly to address the state’s exploding epidemic of gun violence.
is the number one killer of children because of the decisions of the Tennessee
state legislature that invoked permitless carry and that have put the values of
the Tennessee Firearms Association, American Firearms Association, and the
National Rifle Association over the lives of people in our community,” Pearson
Black communities in Tennessee are disproportionately affected by gun violence, Pearson noted. While 12% of Tennesseans are Black, they represent 38% of crime victims in 2022, according to the TBI. “I buried a friend this year,” he said. “Last year, I buried a mentor who died from gun violence. This is not normal.”
He wants to see laws that protect children, protection orders that shield domestic abuse victims, stronger background checks and tracing the routes by which guns come into our community.
“Memphis doesn’t have any gun manufacturers, yet we have this extreme amount of gun violence. We need to figure out why that is and who is proliferating and profiting off of the pain and the suffering that we are experiencing,” he said.
Recent proposals before the city council would repeal permitless carry in Memphis and ban the sale of assault rifles. But even if the local proposals passed, many assume that the state legislature would simply preempt them. “The reality is, we are always going to be facing the issue of preemption,” Pearson said. “Our state legislators who represent Memphis and Shelby County, they’re going to have to start standing tall and speaking up and using their voices.”
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