Neighbors For Gun Violence Prevention began with a chance meeting in the grocery aisle between Sue Wright and Isabel McCall after the March Nashville Covenant School massacre. We are 70 plus members, and growing. Isabel describes the group:
“We are a nonpartisan group of neighbors who have come together to support safer gun laws for Tennessee. We participate by meeting, brainstorming solutions, sharing information, calling and writing legislators, attending legislative sessions, and voting for state senators and representatives who are committed to making Tennessee a safer place for children, and all its citizens. We are motivated by the data that states: Firearms are the leading killer of children and teens in the U.S. We are committed to meaningful action to prevent gun violence.”
The coalition includes Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, educators, small business owners, parents, and grandparents. Some, like me, come from a long line of hunters and gun owners. Our goals are to effect common sense firearm legislation in Tennessee to keep guns out of the hands of persons who should not possess them, and ensure education, safe handling and storage of firearms to protect our families. For most of us, it was our first visit to the Capitol, and first time addressing an issue with our legislators.
Upon arrival in Nashville, we participated in an Interfaith prayer event at the Capitol Plaza, followed by group prayers and singing linked arm to arm, encircling the Capitol building, a humbling and powerful moment of reflection and unity with folks from all walks of life. Then, we walked to the Cordell Hull Legislative Building, where our legislators have their offices and hold their committee meetings.
Over the course of the day, we met with three Representatives: the Hon. Patsy Hazlewood, Greg Vital, and Yusuf Hakeem. Unfortunately, Sen. Gardenhire, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was unable to meet with us, but we stopped by his office, leaving letters explaining our position, and had cordial, though brief, encounters in the halls with our senator over the course of our time in Nashville.
We also attended an informational session and roundtable at Belcourt Theater, sponsored by Voices for a Safer Tennessee. Voices is a nonpartisan gun sense organization made up of Covenant parents and grandparents, their pastor, medical professionals, business and music industry leaders, and other concerned Nashvillians who are working to create common sense laws improving the safety and security in our schools, churches, and communities statewide, including former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist MD, and his spouse, Tracy Frist.
Now, for a few statistics:
The two big drivers of firearm suicides, gun violence, and accidental firearms injuries and deaths are access and opportunity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports in 2021, 48,830 people were killed by a firearm in our country. Fifty-four percent of those deaths were suicides, and 43 percent were homicides. Overall suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in 2021, and more than half of suicides involved a firearm. For those age 75 and above, 94 percent of gun deaths were suicides. The CDC available data for 2022 suggests suicides are more common in the U.S. than at any time since the dawn of World War II, in 1941. Gun sales have increased, placing more firearms in more residences.
Sadly, the great state of Tennessee is No. 1 in the nation for gun thefts in the U.S., mostly handguns stolen from vehicles. Two Tennessee cities rank highest in the country for gun thefts from vehicles: Memphis is No. 1, and Chattanooga is No. 2. Jackson and Nashville are in the top 15 nationwide. Many of you may have read about the police shooting in Chattanooga last month. The shooter, a felon, shot the CPD officer with a handgun that was stolen in Chattanooga last year.
According to The Tennessean, in 2021, 926 gun-related deaths occurred in kids 17 years old and younger in Tennessee, about 20 percent higher than the national rate. Between 2017 and 2021, the childhood homicide rate in Tennessee increased by 18.9 percent.
Overall, 76 percent of female and 56 percent of male murders were perpetrated by someone they knew (Bureau of Justice Statistics, selected findings, 2009). In the U.S., every day, about three women are killed by their partner or spouse (Sanctuary for Families, March 2023).
What are the answers? Neighbors For Gun Violence Prevention believes in common sense safety: secure gun storage, NEVER in your unattended vehicle, unless in a lock box; trigger locks to prevent access and opportunity by kids and others without permission; gun education and safety; and importantly, a temporary emergency mental health legislation so law enforcement, families, and the courts can act quickly to secure guns from those who should not be handling weapons.
After I waved goodbye to my fellow Neighbors members, I stayed on in Nashville until Thursday evening to lobby for sensible gun laws/ownership and watch firsthand the proceedings of the Special Session. About 130 proposed bills were in the offing.
I roomed nearby with Ann Butterfield Hawkins, currently of Memphis, but formerly of Chattanooga and a GPS alumnus. Randomly, Ann and I were paired up by a mutual contact, resulting in an ad hoc reunion with several Neighbors members. Ann is a lovely person, and was a great roommate.
Each day, as I entered and exited the Cordell Hull Complex and Capitol, I thanked the Tennessee Highway Patrol members who were called to duty for the Special Session. Their presence ensured the security and the protection of all.
Here is a recap of the four bills that were passed during the Special Session and will go to Governor Lee for his signature; all of these bills were drafted at the governor’s request.
TN DPS Will provide firearm trigger locks free of charge to Tennessee residents upon request (DPS has a surplus purchased in the past). Requires Tennessee-department approved handgun safety course regarding safe storage. Exempts retail sales of gun safes/gun safety devices from sales tax, beginning November 1, 2023.
Shortens deadline for county clerks from 30 days to 72 hours to notify TBI of release of a person who was involuntarily committed due to a mental health crisis. The designation of clear must provide the person’s residence of record for follow-up visit/wellness check by law enforcement.
Mandates TBI to create an annual update report to the General Assembly of human trafficking incidents in the state, both labor and sex trafficking by December 1 to ensure review for further action/proposals/funding mechanisms by the legislative body.
Funding/appropriations for the above three bills passed.
Some of What Did NOT Pass
Any Extreme Risk to Gun Violence Protective Order legislation to allow the temporary removal of firearms from a person by state court order from a person who they believe may present a danger to others or themselves. After a set time, the guns are returned to the person, unless another court hearing extends the period of confiscation.
Twenty-four states have such laws on the books.
Funds/monies for increased mental health treatment and a grant program for tuition reimbursement for persons who received an advanced mental health degree, with a commitment to practice in Tennessee for five years after state reimbursement. Currently, Tennessee has a severe lack of mental health professionals to meet the needs of our communities. Another proposed bill would have expanded Tennessee Medicaid services for mental health treatment.
HB7064: Arming teachers and staff, or retired law enforcement and military with and enhanced handgun to carry in public schools, in K-12 classrooms, and school events, including field trips, athletic meets and games, and school board meetings. This proposal was defeated in the House Civil Justice Committee by bipartisan vote.
In the future, Neighbors For Gun Violence Prevention will continue to meet regularly, featuring guest speakers/legislators at our meetings. We will brainstorm, listen, reach out to others, including urban and rural voters, and educate ourselves to act and advocate for common sense gun safety and gun violence reduction across Tennessee. We hope you will join us. As Mr. Rogers would say, “Please, won’t you be my Neighbor?”
by April Cook