A group of local student leaders, all of them members of Chattanooga's Mayor's Youth Council, wants to continue the conversation about gun violence even as newsworthy, mass tragedy events fade from public dialogue.
"The majority of the time when gun violence conversations arise its immediately after a tragedy, which makes sense [and] that's important to have that conversation about something like that, but in so many people's lives around the city, that's their every day life," said Hannah Carter, a junior at Silverdale Baptist Academy.
The organization is holding a panel discussion on gun violence featuring Chattanooga's Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers, Assistant Police Chief Danna Vaughn, Mayor Andy Berke and Dr. Dave Bhattacharya, a pediatric surgeon at the Children's Hospital at Erlanger.
The 51 students who make up the council will also present their own ideas on how to solve gun violence in the community.
Noah Risley, a senior at McCallie School, has been working with several students from Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, who are on the council. Risley said his group is looking at gun violence as not just a crime problem, but an economic one.
"We are taking a very indirect approach, because the issue of gun violence is so multilateral and trying to put one fire out starts three more," he said. "So we were hoping to initiate some structural or some socioeconomic shift because we stopped looking at it as just gun violence but as crime overall. When [crime] happens in young adults, typically it's economic advancement issues that's causing it and not actually wanting to go out and commit crimes."
IF YOU GO
The event, “Bridging the Gap: A Conversation About Gun Violence,” hosted by the Mayor’s Youth Council is from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the UTC University Center, Tennessee Room, at 642 E. 5th Street, Chattanooga.
Local leaders in Chattanooga, including elected officials and community organizations often hold conversations or forums about gun violence, but many of the students said it seems these conversations only occur immediately after a tragic event or often just focus on school shootings.
"Sometimes there will be some debate about it, but everyone seems to agree that gun violence is an issue," Carter said.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in Feb. 2018, student activists, including Chattanooga Students Leading Change, came together locally to hold forums and rallies raising awareness about gun violence and the Times Free Press took an in-depth look at gun violence in Chattanooga neighborhoods through the series, Cost of the Crossfire, that same year.
But conversations still feel inconsistent, said Lauren Cabrera, a senior at Lookout Valley Middle/High School.
"The conversation can't start and stop based on what happens because that way you get nothing done. It has to be a continuous process where everyone grows because if you start and stop and start and stop nobody is going to grow and nothing gets done," Cabrera said.
Carter echoed her.
"Mass shootings shouldn't be the only thing recognized as gun violence. They're tragic and the media focuses on it because of the numbers of fatalities usually, but it happens every single day with suicides, police shootings, neighborhoods, gangs — there's all types of violence that goes on."
The Mayor's Youth Council recruit a new cohort of high school juniors and seniors each school year. Typically, cohorts range in size up to about 30 students. This year's council is made up of 51 students from 20 schools, both public and private in the Chattanooga area. Previous councils have tackled projects focused on voting, homelessness, mental health awareness, gang violence, climate change and environmental issues, among other issues plaguing Chattanooga communities.
Wednesday's event is open to the public. Young adults, and high school and college students, in particular, are encouraged to attend. The event is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 13 at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's University Center.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.