A child is gone: Lets replace guns with caring

A child is gone: Lets replace guns with caring

January 24th, 2014 in Opinion Times

Google "guns Chattanooga area" and you get 540 results on a map scaled with Chattanooga in the center and surrounded by South Pittsburg, Dunlap, Cleveland and LaFayette.

Pull the map scale slider down just enough to show Murfreesboro, Sweetwater, Rome and Guntersville, and your hits will jump to more than 4,000.

Those "hits" are places where guns are sold. And no, that doesn't include places where a person can buy a gun illegally. These are legal outlets. Up front. Advertised.

This has been quite the week -- year, really -- for gun news in the Chattanooga. On Monday night a half hour before midnight, a 13-year-old was shot and killed at the doorway of his East 50th Street home when at least a dozen bullets riddled the house and a residence next door.

Police said East Lake Academy of Fine Arts eighth-grader Deontrey Southers wasn't the intended target, but he was the latest victim in an ongoing retaliation spree between rival gangs. This month, four other people have been shot in Chattanooga. All told police they didn't know who fired at them.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, wants to make enforcement of federal gun control measures in Tennessee illegal. The bill states federal laws regarding gun control would not be followed in the state. Think: No restrictions. Want a gun? Plop your money down.

One of Beavers' ultra-conservative cohorts, State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, has introduced another bill that would ban local options to prohibit guns in parks. Think Coolidge Park or Chester Frost Park as scenes at the OK Corral.

Gun violence doesn't just happen in Chattanooga, and it doesn't just happen in poor neighborhoods. Last week, Hamilton County sheriff's deputies charged an 18-year-old with reckless endangerment and carrying a weapon on school property after he fired shots near Hamilton County High School, formerly Harrison Bay Vocational School. No one was injured.

The weekend before, Collegedale police were called to help a woman who was shot in her mobile home near Apison Pike when a bullet passed through the wall and hit her leg. Her wound was not life-threatening. In early January, a 25-year-old man was shot in the abdomen in a house on Waconda Drive in Harrison.

But there is a difference in some parts of Chattanooga. On the night an innocent eighth-grader died, a neighbor in fear because the sound of gunshots is all-too-familiar there told reporters: "I guarantee you tonight there will be more -- two to three more killings or somebody will get shot in the process."

That didn't come to pass. Perhaps that is because of a fairly new local focus on stemming violence that includes tougher enforcement in Chattanooga, a focus using federal gun laws for longer prison sentencing, along with social and jobs assistance programs for people who turn away from gangs and violence.

Perhaps that focus -- which includes a concerted effort to replace guns with mentorships, heart and caring dialogues promoted in recent weeks by the city, local groups and this newspaper -- might be making a difference. The effort hadn't been in place long enough to save Deontrey Southers, but at least there were no more shootings in the early morning hours of Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday.

If Sen. Beavers, who touts her National Rifle Association endorsements, had her way, the tougher enforcement efforts wouldn't be possible. Tennessee would in effect be "opted out" of federal gun laws. Maybe she would like to spend a night or two on East 50th Street, where the sound of gunfire is all too familiar.