Chattanooga Moms Demand Action convened a group of residents at the Chattanooga Public Library downtown Saturday to discuss ways to reduce gun violence in Chattanooga and across the state.
About 25 attendees shared their reasons for coming, which ranged from losing loved ones to senseless gun violence to being a victim themselves. As of April 28, Chattanooga had 32 shooting victims in 2019. That number is three more than at the same time last year.
Stacy Dailey of Ringgold, Georgia, attended the event. She lost her son, Stephen Davis, to a shooting when he was 20 years old, and since then, three of Davis' friends also have died as a result of gun violence, she said. Her son was shot and killed in Indiana, and Dailey and her husband moved to the area after he died.
"I feel like I'm not doing enough. I'm trying to keep his light shining and going out there and doing what I can to help," Dailey said.
One woman who attended Saturday said she was a survivor of the the 2007 shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, where a gunman killed 32 people on campus before taking his own life. Others who attended had lost sons, husbands, grandmothers and nieces, and some attended because they fear for their children who attend public schools.
› Wear Orange on National Gun Violence Awareness Day at Orchard Knob Middle School, 500 N. Highland Park Ave. on June 8 from 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Volunteers will help paint, garden and do other projects around the school.
› Moms Demand Action will hold another public event in conjunction with the city’s Office of Public Safety on July 9 at 12 p.m. in the Mayor’s office located at 101 East 11th St.
Moms Demand Action members said their goal Saturday was to identify existing resources in the community, learn more about city gun violence and brainstorm what other resources or gaps in services there are in the community, with the idea that the organization will create "working groups" around some of the solutions posed.
The event came less than six weeks after the Times Free Press hosted a community forum at the Carver Youth and Family Development Center following its series "Cost of the Crossfire." That event ignited and continued conversations surrounding gun violence in the community, said a representative from Chattanooga Moms Demand Action before the event Saturday.
At the Times Free Press forum, participants shared their thoughts on what fuels gun violence in Chattanooga, including poverty, lack of parental involvement, social media, mental health issues, low self-esteem, toxic masculinity, easy access and fascination with guns.
Some potential solutions that emerged from that meeting included a need for more mentoring programs, family engagement, more funding for collaborative programs among government entities, access to mental health services and equitable funding for schools.
Many of the nearly 60 people who attended the Crossfire forum said people seem to not be aware of the resources that currently exist to address gun violence in the city.
The seven-part Cost of the Crossfire series detailed the financial and societal costs Chattanooga incurs as a result of gun violence. It also included reporting from other cities, demonstrating ways that evidence-based, multi-disciplinary law enforcement and public health programs can help reduce shootings.
Firearm-related injuries cost Tennessee $8 billion each year, which equals $1,248 per resident, according to data provided by Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.
In 2018, there were 24 homicides in the city of Chattanooga, including those deemed "accidental" and "justified" by the Chattanooga Police Department. That's a nearly 30 percent decline from the 34 homicides in the city in 2017 and the 33 in 2016. More than 80 percent of the 2018 homicides were carried out with a gun.
Saturday's event came the same week that Tennessee legislators voted to lessen the requirements needed to obtain a handgun carry permit in the state. Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, the state will offer a new concealed carry-only handgun permit that won't require training that involves actually firing a weapon.
Residents can instead do a 90-minute online training with a test to earn the new, less expensive permit. The existing handgun carry permit training would still remain a requirement for those wishing to openly carry a gun.
Many of the attendees on Saturday stated they would like to see the city and residents maintaining neighborhoods, parks and other public places so they don't attract more crime.
This is a problem that cities across the country are handling by implementing "place-based policing." Several programs in small and major cities, many housed in police departments, focus on the locations where violent crimes occur and how simple fixes can deter future incidents.
One group brought up an idea of an "express 311" system that priortizes more pressing issues, like broken streetlights and vacant lots that can attract crime.
An outside evaluation of Mayor Andy Berke's Violence Reduction Initiative, which was started to address gang violence but has shown mixed results over the years, was also brought up as a need, as well as gathering more data on the issue.
Positive alternatives for at-risk individuals, such as volunteering, increasing mental health resources and getting churches and more state legislators involved were other ideas members discussed.
Chattanooga is the first city in Tennesee to have a "Students Demand Action" group, according to Moms Demand Action members.
One group wanted to get more young people involved and to teach at-risk youth conflict resolution skills. Resident Olga de Klein helps to lead an art program at the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Center and said she is often teaching kids ages 11 to 17, but by that age, they have already been indoctrinated into a life of crime.
"Most of the time, they have gone through dire situations and have better answers than we have," she said about solving gun violence. "The younger we can get to the kids who are at-risk, the better it is."
Contact staff writers Elizabeth Fite and Allison Shirk Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.