Last year, there were 157 murders in the city of Memphis. That's 10 more murders than in 2011.
The 2012 homicide rate, which equates to two to three homicides per week, was the highest in Memphis since 2008, when the city had 168 murders. Only 17 of the homicides in 2012 were ruled justifiable, meaning the perpetrator acted in self-defense and was not charged.
Memphis police director Toney Armstrong said around 90 percent of last year's homicides involved individuals who knew one another.
"It is unfortunate that murder is not a crime that can be tracked through statistics," Armstrong said in a statement. "Due to the fact that most homicides occur between a known victim and suspect, we cannot predict where the next one will take place. As a community, we must work together to find the root problems that cause this type of crime to occur. Hopefully, through community policing, realignment of manpower throughout the city of Memphis, and by bringing our resources to every precinct, such as investigative bureaus, we will see a difference in 2013."
There were 735 homicides across the state over the course of 2010 and 2011 combined, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (the 2012 statistics weren't available as of press time). Memphis accounted for 269 of those. Nearly 500 of those homicides were committed with firearms. In 2012, more than 80 percent of Memphis' homicides involved firearms.
Andrew McClurg, a University of Memphis law professor and gun control expert, said a large percentage of guns used for crimes come from theft of vehicles and residences. He said people don't often report their firearms stolen, because they may not own them legally.
"They may have been illegal guns at the time they were stolen, or the victim may have been carrying the gun illegally, such as in a car without a carry permit, or is worried about potential liability or other ramifications if the gun is subsequently misused," McClurg said. "It's a complex issue and there's no way to pin the homicide rate increase to a single cause, but there's no question that too many illegal guns is part of the problem."
Mayor A C Wharton has identified gun violence as an area his administration needs to focus on, and he's encouraging residents to report stolen firearms to reduce the amount of crime and misuse of firearms. He's also a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national organization that endorses a variety of gun control initiatives in hopes of lowering the amount of illegal gun trafficking and violence.
Other strategies such as Armstrong's Community Outreach Program, in which about 30 officers are assigned to positions in crime hotspots in the northern and southern parts of the city, are designed to reduce gun crime.
However, some Memphians aren't rallying behind the city's effort to implement gun control.
Michael Williams, president of the Memphis Police Association, said emphasizing gun control would primarily make it more difficult for citizens to legally purchase and own firearms without having much effect on the city's homicide problem.
"The criminals are going to get access to guns," Williams said. "Whether they've got to break into a gun shop, a pawn shop, or somebody's house, they're going to get the guns. And when you start talking about children who have access to guns in homes, individuals need to be taught they need to secure their weapons within their homes."
Memphis' homicide rate has increased annually since 2010, when the city had 112 homicides. The rate rose to 147 murders in 2011 and 157 in 2012. According to MPD statistics, African-American males under the age of 25 commit most of the city's homicides.