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OPINION: Chattanooga, Tennessee better than all this gun violence? Apparently not

Chattanooga Times Free Press - 6/6/2022

Jun. 7—"I'm tired of standing in front of you talking about guns and bodies."

That was our mayor, Tim Kelly, at a a news conference Sunday.

He was saying this as police continued going over evidence from our second mass shooting in a week, and our third in eight months.

Later, Kelly told CNN: "Over the last 10 days we've had three killed here and something like 23 injured. So, it's a terrible situation."

Yes, it is. And it's a terrible situation that has been decades in the making. Decades in the making with multiple causes — not just family choices or just government choices as some would like to blame.

It's taken decades to make Chattanooga two cities — one for haves and one for have nots where some see opportunity not as a job, but a gun.

It's taken decades to run our local public school system into the gutter with inequities and a lack of future for children whose parents were not fortunate enough to move to ZIP codes with better schools.

It's taken decades for mayor after mayor and police chief after police chief to dream up new youth programs and gang units or other gun violence initiatives that all eventually crumbled amid local politicians' turf battles.

It's taken years for the political right-wing to use former President Barack Obama's election as a racial wedge and raise screams for loosening — not tightening — gun safety laws. Tennessee, of course, stampeded to the forefront to become a permitless carry state and to welcome gun manufacturers. You may recall Republican Gov. Bill Lee in the fall of 2021, announcing Smith & Wesson's relocation from Massachusetts to Maryville, Tennessee.

Lee touted the state's "commitment to the Second Amendment." And the news release stated Smith & Wesson joined more than 20 small arms and ammunition manufacturers located in Tennessee, which already "ranks No. 1 in the nation for employment in the small arms and ammunition sector."

Fast forward to this past weekend, and here we go again. Three people in a car, including a 9-year-old, on Fort Street were shot. Hours later, Chattanooga tallied up the newest and most violent shooting of the past 253 days. It came just after 2:30 a.m. Sunday, apparently beginning at a nightclub near the intersection of McCallie Avenue and North Willow Street. Of the 17 victims there, three are dead — two killed by gunfire and one who was struck by a vehicle. All but one, a 16-year-old boy, were adults between the ages of 21 and 49 — nine women and seven men.

Police have said there were multiple shooters. As of mid-day Monday, no one was yet in custody.

This is on the heals of a Memorial Day weekend mass shooting in Chattanooga's downtown tourism district. Six teens — five 15-year-olds and one 13-year-old — were shot. Two remain in critical condition. The district attorney has filed a request to have a 15-year-old boy arrested in connection with the shooting to be tried as an adult. Police have said another suspect remains at large.

Last September, seven women, including a teen, were shot after a party on Grove Street in Chattanooga's west side. Two died. No one has been charged.

Kelly has no enviable task here, but he didn't mince words Sunday.

"There's a lot we don't know about what happened this morning, but what we do know is that there are families whose lives have been shattered because once again, we had people deciding to resolve their issues with firearms. ... We know that many of the recent acts of violence in our community have revolved around a very small group of people — often the same people, over and over. ...

"Here is my message to those individuals: We will relentlessly pursue you with all of the resources we have at our disposal. From forensics to federal support, we won't stop until you're in police custody. To anyone thinking about turning to violence, don't — there will be tremendous consequences for you. ... Our city will treat this like the crisis it is," he said.

Then Kelly took aim at politicians hugging the Second Amendment.

"I am a gun owner. I've been an avid hunter and marksman all my life — and so I want to say this clearly. I fully support responsible gun ownership, but Congress needs to do their jobs and pass common sense regulations that will help stop this nonsense. That doesn't mean taking guns away from responsible gun owners, but it does mean mandatory background checks and prohibiting high-capacity magazines that allow shooters to hurt dozens of people without having to so much as reload. ... This stuff is just common sense. And it's a simple way we can keep people safe."

This even as Tennessee Gov. Lee —the primary pusher with the NRA for the Tennessee General Assembly in 2021 to OK permitless carry in our state — prepared to sign an executive order for new school safety accountability measures in schools in the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

Finally, Kelly appealed to Chattanoogans for help. Call 423-643-5100. You can remain anonymous.

Like Kelly, we're tired of talking about guns and bodies. Mostly we're tired of the decades of problems that led us here while other politicians, including Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly, blather on about protecting — even expanding — gun rights.

We're better than this? Apparently not.


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