Sohn: Chattanooga sticks to its guns - no selling of confiscated firearms

Staff photo by Doug Strickland / Seized firearms are displayed on a cart in the lobby of the property evidence room at the Police Services Center on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The Chattanooga Police have seized an unusually large number of guns in only a few weeks.

The Chattanooga Police will not be auctioning off guns that have been seized or confiscated.

The question came up in the days leading up to the Fourth of July weekend, when advertisements invited people in the region to a "Guns, Buns and 'Cue" sale that Saturday "celebrating our 2nd Amendment rights" at a private auction house behind the Police Services Center on Amnicola Highway.

Just days before, Tennessee's new "permitless carry" handgun law had taken effect, and the auction ad promised that a variety of guns would be available for purchase including "law enforcement confiscated & police seizure firearms and more."

Guns seized by Chattanooga Police were not part of that sale, auction officials told us, but the company's managing partner made it clear he hoped to sell the city's stash of guns in the future, noting the department would soon have a new chief and that he had recently attended a fundraiser for new Mayor Tim Kelly.

Kelly made it plain this week in an interview with the Times Editorial Page that a sale won't happen. "You'll not have to write a story about Chattanooga auctioning off its guns," he said.

We told him we were glad we would not be writing that one.

Kelly says the proliferation of guns - and shootings - we're seeing on the rise are a major frustration to him, and that he and his chief of staff, Brent Goldberg, last Sunday night went on a walk with police and citizens through the neighborhoods of Avondale "to say enough is enough on the gun violence. We'll be looking for ways to strengthen the [police connection to neighborhoods] through community centers and other things. We used to have these programs where police were in the community centers, building trust. And we've got to figure out ways to do that again."

The police department recently reallocated officers and investigators to a new gun unit, and on the last day of June, city police unveiled a new investigative tool - dubbed Dragonfly Community Connect - officials say will combine the city's existing 37 public safety cameras (soon to be 53) with opt-in, local, private businesses' security cameras to boost the police department's real-time intelligence center. Police say businesses with compatible, cloud-linked security systems can voluntarily give police extra eyes when they receive calls for service or a report of a public safety threat.

On that system, Kelly said, "we saw footage of one young man who's probably 14 years old, walking around with a gun in his waistband. An officer was able to go to his house and talk to his mother. And they left with the gun. And the kid probably had a real bad day - from his mom. But, you know, there's no telling what sort of mayhem that prevented."

Beyond the high-tech help and a policy aimed at not putting guns back on the streets, some responsibility also falls to all of us to improve education and to our lawmakers ,who seem bent on continually making guns easier to obtain and to carry. (It was Tennessee lawmakers, too, who in 2010 forbid police departments from destroying confiscated and seized weapons.)

Any suggestions from Kelly to lawmakers about guns? You bet. How about a law requiring people who carry their guns in their cars to keep them in safes to cut down on gun thefts from cars? And there's a case to be made, the mayor said, that liability should follow if proper care is not taken on commercial levels (pawn shops, for instance) if guns are stolen there and later used in crimes. Kelly said Gov. Bill Lee announcing a year-long sales tax holiday on gun safety equipment was "certainly a step in the right direction."

As for that education piece - we saw a new trade school announcement in early July and we're told we'll see more next week when the city, county and Hamilton County schools announce another new partnership in education. They're being a bit coy about its details right now, but Kelly in his campaign - and city officials before him - have been fixated for some time on solving some of our community's early childhood learning obstacles.

Kelly, in talking about the city's gun problems and crime, insists it is not just a law enforcement problem.

"I think this obviously gets back to the problems of education inequity and economic inequity," he said. "Which is why I've got such a dedication to early childhood education, and wraparound services to families, to stop this cycle But that won't pay off for 15 or 20 years, right? So it has to be a long-term, strategic approach and a short-term tactical approach."

Keeping those guns off the streets is a start. Giving preschoolers enough vocabulary to learn to read is a start. So is extra eyes and earned trust in our neighborhoods.

It's all a good start.