Gun Crime continues upward trend; Tennessee’s Permitless Gun Law goes into effect July 1

Gun Rights
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Back in the spring, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed the permitless gun carry law that has gone into effect as of July 1.

Star Staff Reports

According to figures released by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, during the first quarter of 2021, gun crime in the Memphis community continued a steady upward trend which began with the COVID-19 pandemic last year. 

The Memphis Police Department (MPD) and the U of M Public Safety Institute (PSI) track reported violent crime incidents involving guns. During the first quarter of this year (January-March), there were 1,576 reported violent incidents involving guns – up 30.1% compared to the first quarter of 2020. (The pre-pandemic first quarter of 2020 showed a slight decline compared to 2019.) Just as disturbing is that 69.8% of the reported violent incidents involved use of guns, compared to 58.8% in 2020. 

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The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) tracks reported offenses involving guns. One incident can involve multiple offenses. For example, an aggravated assault with three victims is one incident involving three offenses. Also, the TBI gun offense figures include non-violent offenses, such as felons in possession of firearms. So, the TBI figures will always be greater than MPD’s violent incident figures involving guns. 

Based on preliminary TBI figures, there were 3,546 reported offenses involving guns in Memphis during the first quarter of 2021 compared to 2,336 during the first quarter of 2020 – a 51.8% increase. 

The MPD and PSI monitor calls for service for shots fired and shots with persons hit. During the first quarter of 2021, there were 4,405 reports of shots fired (compared to 3,891 in 2020) and 530 reports of persons hit by gunfire (compared to 429 in 2020). 

The MPD also tracks guns reported stolen from vehicles. During the first quarter of this year, 375 guns were reported stolen from vehicles compared to 164 during the first quarter of 2020. At the current pace, about 1500 guns will be reported stolen from vehicles this year in Memphis. The total in 2020 was 1,324. 

In 2014, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted legislation allowing handguns in vehicles without a permit. Since then, reported guns stolen from vehicles have skyrocketed. (There were 459 for the entire year in 2014.) 

“As a community, we must have a sense of urgency about the level of gun crime. It will take more than law enforcement and prosecutors making it a priority. All of us, including parents, teachers, and faith leaders, must also make it a priority,” said Bill Gibbons, president of the Crime Commission. 

This Saturday, April 24 at 10 a.m., the Crime Commission will partner with a number of other agencies and community groups for the third Community Walk Against Gun Violence. The 1.9 mile Walk route will begin and end at the MLK Prep Academy, 1530 Dellwood Avenue in Frayser. 

“The Walks are meant to make a strong statement about our community values and serve as a call to action to address gun violence. Too many lives are being lost and too many people injured as a result of gun violence,” said Gibbons. 

Next week, the Crime Commission and the U of M Public Safety Institute will release jointly first quarter 2021 crime figures for both Memphis and all of Shelby County, including figures for major violent crime, domestic violence, major property, and crime overall. 

Tennessee is officially a permitless gun carry state

The Volunteer State is now one of 19 in the Union to have a permitless gun carry law. Gov. Bill Lee on signed a bill back in April allowing most adults to carry a handgun without a permit, an effort that was at the top of his legislative agenda for the year.

The law takes effect July 1.

In a statement on Twitter, Lee thanked the Tennessee legislature and National Rifle Association for their work to pass the bill.

It allows people 21 and older to carry handguns openly or concealed without a permit, along with members of the military ages 18 to 20. The new law does not apply to long guns, a point of contention among gun rights activists.

The Lee administration has estimated the legislation will cost the state as much as $20 million annually. 

The bill is backed by the National Rifle Association but opposed by the state’s leading law enforcement groups, which have argued the change could increase crime and officer vulnerability.

The bill passed the House on March 29.

In addition to removing Tennessee’s misdemeanor offense for most people who carry a handgun without a permit, the bill also increases punishments for certain gun crimes.

The law boosts theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony and mandates six months of incarceration for the offense, up from the current 30-day sentence. It also bars felons convicted of possessing a firearm from early release.

People who are already prohibited from receiving a permit, including  felons and those convicted of domestic violence offenses, the new permitless carry right will not extend to people with a conviction of stalking, those with a recent DUI conviction or individuals who have been committed by the court to a mental institution.

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