Gunfire in some Chattanooga neighborhoods is so commonplace that residents rightly fear for their lives. Those fears are not unfounded. Twenty-one of the 23 homicides recorded in the city so far this year have been gun-related. The latest occurred Sunday night, when a gunman, still unidentified at this writing, opened fire in an East Chattanooga neighborhood. The toll was grisly. One dead and four wounded, including a two-year-old toddler.
The death toll from gunplay in the city is only part of the havoc wreaked by those quick to use guns. There have been, according to reports, an 48 additional shootings with injuries in the city so far this year. Sadly, the frequency of gunplay and its outcome here isn't really surprising. It's part of a frightening and growing statewide phenomenon.
Tennesseans are more likely to be victims of a violent gun crime than residents of any other state, according to an analysis of FBI statistics by The Tennessean, the Nashville newspaper. Only Washington, D.C., had a higher rate of gun violence in the period examined. Nothing positive can or should be said about either the state's ranking or Chattanooga's contribution to the gun-related violence.
Even those familiar with crime are hard-put to explain the rash of gun-related violence. Don Green, with the University of Tennessee's Law Enforcement Innovation Center, provides a trio of possibilities. The first is that better reporting by law enforcement agencies has pushed up the total. That might be true, but it's hard to believe that the only reason for the increase in gun violence.
A second and stronger possibility is that gang- and drug-related crime where guns are frequently employed is on the increase. There's considerable truth to that likelihood. Chattanooga police officials, for example, say that many shootings in the city are related to gang activity and that one shooting often prompts retaliatory action. That might be true, but none of the victims of Sunday's shooting, according to court records, had a violent criminal history.
The third possibility - Tennessee's extraordinarily high rate of gun ownership - is the most plausible. Second Amendment proponents don't want to hear it, of course, but there is growing aevidence that communities and states with high rates of gun ownership have high rates of gun-related crimes.
The ready availability of guns, then, is a common denominator in crime here. Given the seemingly random nature of the shootings here, one way to reduce the possibility, indeed the increasing likelihood, of random gun violence is to make guns more difficult to obtain, especially at loosely regulated gun shows. Despite the fervent pleas other law enforcement officials here and elsewhere, legislators in almost every state and in Washington are loath to pursue such a course of action.
The result of that politically self-serving refusal to reduce the availability of guns means that those who willfully ignore the law and who have no compulsion about opening fire anywhere, anytime and at anyone have ready access to weapons. The result is increasingly self-evident - and horrific. It is measured in the number of the dead and wounded on Walker Street, elsewhere in Tennessee and in every state in the union.