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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Mayor Tim Kelly, middle, talks with his chief of staff Joda Thongnopnua and police chief Celeste Murphy before a news conference on the steps of Chattanooga City Hall on Sunday, June 5, 2022.

After three people died and 14 were injured following another mass shooting in Chattanooga, city and county leaders are once again contemplating solutions to a problem they say has become all too common.

"I am even more distressed than I have been," Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, whose district includes the portion of McCallie Avenue where the violence occurred, said by phone Sunday. "These mass shootings have been going on for a while. They will continue until all of us take this seriously."

The shooting, Chattanooga's second in eight days, occurred after 2 a.m. on Sunday near the 2100 block of McCallie Avenue. Two people were killed by gunfire and another after being struck by a vehicle while fleeing the scene. Fourteen victims were shot, and an additional three were hit by cars.

On May 28, six teenagers were injured in a shooting in Chattanooga's tourism district. Police have arrested a 15-year-old in that case.

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Multiple people shot overnight on McCallie Ave

After gunfire killed two women on Chattanooga's Westside last September, Mackey organized a town hall meeting to gather input from the public about how county government could be part of the solution.

The County Commission, he said, has since awarded $100,000 to an organization called the Lighthouse Collective, which offers mentoring and life skills training for teenagers and young adults in Chattanooga. That funding could be renewed two more times, he said.

"County government is pitching in and doing its part," he said, "but this violence, it's got to stop for a lot of reasons. It's got to stop because it's wrong, it's got to stop because there's a lot of innocent people who have been hurt and lives have been wasted, and then it gets compounded because people are going to jail."

Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said during a news conference Sunday that he supports responsible gun ownership, but Congress needs to pass common sense regulations.

"That doesn't mean taking guns away from responsible gun owners," he said, but it does include implementing mandatory background checks and prohibiting high capacity magazines.

Kelly added that, even before Police Chief Celeste Murphy's arrival in February, the city had assembled extensive plans to address gun violence, and those are in the process of coming together.

In its upcoming budget, the city intends to fund a new gun violence coordinator position, he said, which will help Chattanooga develop policies and long-term strategies for preventing mass shootings. Kelly said he also plans to convene area judges and thought leaders to talk about ways to address the problem.

Chattanooga City Council Chairman Darrin Ledford said he supports a commitment Kelly has made to extend hours and youth programming at local community centers.

According to a news release issued by the mayor's office Friday, that's part of an initiative focused on keeping young people safe and off the streets, which also includes investing in youth mentorship and social development programs.

"I think it's a great idea, and I'll be supporting personally any effort to keep our community centers open and staffed," Ledford said.

He added that sending a message to parents will be key.

"You are legally responsible for your minor when it comes to the curfew and when it comes to (their) actions," he said. "I think that holding parents and guardians responsible is another part of the solution."

Fundamentally, the problem will require cooperation between the community, City Council and the mayor's office, Ledford said.

"Working together is how we will address this, and this is a very critical time and I think that we will make a difference," he said.

Councilwoman Marvene Noel, who represents the neighborhood where the shooting occurred, echoed Ledford's comments.

"Collaboration is important, and through collaboration, that's where the changes can be made," she said.

People also need to use common sense, Councilman Isiah Hester said.

"At night, if you're at a club, don't try to close the club down," Hester said. "Leave before everybody else because that's the time when folks are drunk. Just leave way before the club closes."

Weston Wamp, the Republican candidate for Hamilton County mayor, said by email that gangs have played a role in the city's gun violence problem, stating that "political correctness and public safety are incompatible."

"It's time to admit that our efforts to reduce violent crime have not worked and we have a gang problem," Wamp wrote. "The truth is rampant fatherlessness and hopelessness plague many of our neighborhoods. While we can't expect our public schools to replace the family, we need to be honest that many of our schools are failing to give purpose to boys as they become young men.

"As a result, gangs of young men trying to make a name for themselves terrorize our streets. Long term, we should aggressively refocus Hamilton County Schools on preparing productive citizens with an emphasis on career training."

Chattanooga Police Department spokesman Jeremy Eames said by email that investigators can't definitively say that gangs were a factor in either of the two most recent shootings, and at this point, it's conjecture to say they were. Investigators are exploring that as a possibility.

Wamp's opponent in August, Democrat Matt Adams, said by email Sunday that leaders need to do more to curb gun violence, which he said has become more and more frequent.

"For far too long we have not invested equitably in our county to help uplift residents," Adams said. "With a community engagement officer in the Sheriff's Office, more equipped schools, a more robust technical training program and expanded access to public transportation and health care, we can see violent crime rates go down.

"Investing in our communities and our children will help guide them away from a life where they believe violence is a viable answer."

Coty Wamp, Weston Wamp's sister, is running as a Republican for Hamilton County district attorney. She will face Democrat John Allen Brooks in August.

"I've said it many times before, and I'll say it again — put a gun in your hand with the intent to harm this community, and my office will seek the harshest punishment that the law allows," Coty Wamp said in a prepared statement. "You will not receive a break. You will not receive probation. You will go to prison."

She also blamed gangs for the recent spate of violence.

"We also won't hide from the word 'gang,'" she said. "This violence is gang-related. Period. We cannot fix the problem until we are honest about the problem."

Reached by phone, Brooks said Sunday curtailing gun violence involves controlling the source of guns.

"The state's done away with most laws to enforce it, and all we're left (to do) is to clean up the mess after the shootings take place," he said.

Investigators also need to closely examine the specifics of each case to identify the unique trigger points, he said, which includes asking how teenagers get their hands on weapons in the first place.

"You have to be 21 to buy a beer, but you can buy an assault weapon at 18?" he said.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.

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