It’s easy to get guns, there are “hundreds and hundreds of thousands” of them in Memphis, and some city leaders had no answer as to why violent crime is on the rise here.
Those are some of the conclusions reached Wednesday during a panel discussion on gun violence in Memphis convened by Rep. Steve Cohen. The panel discussion brought together state, federal, and local leaders to hear Memphians’ views on the gun debate in Congress. Cohen wanted to hear what more could be done on the federal level to help prevent gun violence here.
Cohen noted that recent gun legislation failed in Congress. That legislative push came after a shooter killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub.
Several bills came from Democrats and Republicans alike that would have closed loopholes for sales at gun shows and required background checks. All of them failed, even after a group of House Democrats (including Cohen) staged a widely publicized sit-in on the House floor.
Memphis Police Department (MPD) Deputy Director Mike Ryall said most of the city’s 111 homicides so far this year were committed with a gun. With that, he said guns are something the MPD “takes very seriously.”
He said “guns in bad hands” are the real issue and said leaders need to look at “serious sentencing and discipline for those who violate gun laws in our state.”
Cohen asked the panel members why violence and homicides have been on the rise around the country. David Biggers Jr., executive assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, said that the answer is difficult as there are an array of causes that lead to homicides and “the root of all of them is bad decision-making.”
Cohen asked again, “Why are there more homicides this year than last year?”
Biggers replied, “No answer.”
Others on the panel said the rise in violence this year is “the magic question” or the “million-dollar question.”
But Dr. Martin Croce, the medical director of the Elvis Presley Trauma Center at Regional Medical Center, said, “I think it’s because of the ready availability of guns used by people without sense.”
Some in the audience suggested stricter penalties for gun-law violations, citing the fact that young people in Memphis aren’t afraid of going to jail here, calling it “Club 201.”
Others suggested that citizens don’t trust the police and don’t feel comfortable providing information to them for fear that they will be revealed or dragged into court.
Will Batts, executive director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center, said while there has always been hate against those in his community, the difference now is that it’s easier to buy guns that will kill many people in a short span of time.
Ryall noted that MPD recently rounded up many guns in a huge bust but said more needs to be done.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of guns [in Memphis],” Ryall said. The access to guns is so easy that it’s an constant feeding machine. We need to look into how guns get in the hands of bad people.”