Local leaders and community members from Frayser and the greater Memphis area gathered Saturday beneath a cloudy sky to take a collective stance against gun violence in Memphis.
The event, named the Unity Walk Against Gun Violence, was the third one of its kind that has been held since November. It has followed a rise in gun violence in the city, including a new record homicide rate that it set last year. Leaders present at the walk also spoke out against the permitless carry bill recently signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, arguing that it will only add to the violence in the city.
“If it rains this morning, we’ll keep walking,” said District Attorney General Amy Weirich. “Why? Because they shoot in the rain, they kill in the rain.”
Weirich, along with Mayor Jim Strickland; DeAndre and Vanessa Brown – founders of Lifeline to Success – a Frayser-based organization aimed at helping former felons reintegrate back into society; Stevie Moore – founder of Freedom from Unnecessary Negatives – an organization that seeks to steer urban youth in a positive social direction; and others expressed their passion for fighting gun violence in the city as well as their disappointment in Gov. Lee for signing the bill.
Moore, who organized the walk, in an interview with WMC-5, said that he wants people to be just as passionate about ending violence within the Black community as they are about ending the external violence perpetrated against it by members of law enforcement.
“We get upset when law enforcement does something to our people, but what do we do to our people? What we claim is so bad about law enforcement, we kill our own people and nobody’s upset about it,” Moore said.
The walk came just days after Gov. Lee visited Memphis, where he toured Hanley Elementary and discussed education and the pandemic. During his visit, he also offered a defense of the permitless carry bill, saying that it was an effort to ease restrictions on law abiding citizens who own guns, not criminals.
“Criminals and their inappropriate use of guns should be penalized, and we’ve, in fact, stiffened those penalties,” he said. “You can actually accomplish both — protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens and protecting the citizenry, law enforcement and battling gun crime at the same time.”
While Lee’s intentions to curb gun violence may have been in good faith, several of the local leaders who were present at the walk publicly expressed their opposition to his bill. In an interview with the Daily Helmsman, DeAndre Brown said that he believes that the bill will negatively impact communities like Frayser.
“It will give individuals who may have had some apprehension of brandishing a firearm the freedom to feel like it’s normal,” he said. “We’ve been preaching anti-guns, anti-violence — let’s not be violent to one another, but now you say, ‘You know what? You can carry without having a permit and they can’t ask you about it.’ So that gives them license to carry a weapon.”
Gov. Lee, a Republican, falls along the party line when it comes to gun violence and legislation. Many conservatives, like Lee, believe that restrictions that Democrats have tried to establish about firearm ownership infringe on the 2nd Amendment. Instead, they propose that law-abiding Americans having access to guns will reduce gun violence in America.
There are other ideas on how to stop gun violence, however, that aim at getting guns out of the wrong hands rather than putting more of them in the right ones. In a previous article from the Daily Helmsman, Bill Gibbons, executive director of the Public Safety Institute at the University of Memphis, who was also present at the walk, said that while his opinions did not reflect that of the organizations he represents, he believes that red flag laws are one way forward in the fight against gun violence.
“I think it’s important for people to report when they either see something or hear something that may be suspicious,” Gibbons said.
Red flag laws, officially called Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), are court orders that allow a temporary confiscation of weapons from individuals who are determined to be a risk to their own safety or the safety of others. Eighteen states currently have these laws in place, but Tennessee is not one of them.
Although recent calls for states to adopt red flag laws have been a response to mass shootings, suicide by firearm accounted for 60 percent of gun related deaths in America in 2017, according to a Pew Research article from 2019.
Moreover, while there have not been extensive studies into the effectiveness of red flag laws, one study conducted in 2018 by Psychiatric Services, a monthly journal published by the American Psychological Association since 1950, showed that red flag laws in Indiana and
Connecticut reduced firearm related suicides by 7.5% and 13.7%, respectively, in the years after they passed their laws.
Weirich, in a statement to WMC-5, acknowledged that the walks themselves are not solutions, but that they demonstrate a collective disgust with the current rate of gun violence in the city.
“Walking alone will not stop gun violence, but it is a very visible public statement from the community that we are united in our desire to stop this madness,” she said.
A man holds up a sign for child victims of gun violence. One of victims of the city’s 87 homicides this year was a 4-year old child.