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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Chattanooga Activist Ladarius Price speaks during a Community Action Walk in the Westside meant to prevent more lives from being lost following multiple shootings in Chattanooga over the weekend.

"The message we're taking forward is, put the guns down. It shouldn't have to happen to someone you know. Seven women were shot. That should make all of us cry."

— Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey

"In our community, we are now stepping over bodies. We can no longer afford not to address it. It can no longer be political. We have to put those affiliations to the side and stand in unity to address this issue in the right way."

— Chattanooga Council member Demetrus Coonrod

"We keep having these conversations [when spates of community violence occur] ... but where are we every other day? ... If we're really serious about this we can't keep saying, 'Well, we're tired of Black-on-Black crime,' or 'That's wrong, a Black person shot another Black person.' It's going to take more than that."

— Hamilton County Commissioner Katherlyn Geter

Amen, brothers and sisters.

We're happy to hear this talk. Putting purpose behind it, Mackey is planning an open community meeting to brainstorm ideas for addressing Chattanooga's gun violence after a spate of three Saturday shootings — including a mass shooting in which seven women were shot during a block party on Grove Street in College Hill Courts. Two died there.

Another young man died in a separate Chattanooga shooting earlier that morning. And a third separate city shooting in the afternoon left a middle-aged man wounded. Three shootings, nine victims, one day.

Mackey said community members are calling out to city leaders to help stop the violence, and when people say they have a problem, they also often have ideas for a solution.

Coonrod, too, finds urgency in this tragedy. She wants to see the gun violence pandemic given the same attention as the COVID-19 pandemic because it "needs to be treated like a crisis."

She knows. She is raising her 6-year-old granddaughter, who witnessed her father's death by gun violence. Coonrod wants the city, county and community to work together to address the systemic and social problems that lead to crime, such as poverty and poor educational opportunities.

Of course, it's not just Chattanooga seeing gun violence.

The FBI this week released data showing murders rose nationwide by nearly 30% last year compared to 2019. It is a record one-year increase. Most of those killings — about 77% — involved guns.

And Tennessee would seem to be a leader. The Volunteer State saw a 10-year high in violent crime in 2020, with a rate of 9.6 homicides per 100,000 residents — a figure considerably outpacing the national rate of 6.5 homicides per 100,000 residents.

As for guns? In Chattanooga alone, 29 of the 33 homicides in 2020 involved firearms, according to the FBI data.

In the 1990s, crime experts often linked violent crimes such as homicides to other crime, including thefts. But that didn't hold true for 2020. Similar to national trends, Tennessee's reported property crimes, such as burglary and larceny, reached lows in 2020 compared to the previous three decades.

Nationally, experts pointed to the stresses of 2020 — from jobs to illness. COVID-19 put a spotlight on long-standing health care, education, housing and employment inequities.

In Chattanooga, if you listen to community leaders and officials, those same social problems are exacerbated by community members becoming numb to the violence or too afraid to speak up because they fear retaliation.

LaDarius Price, a Chattanooga activist, organized a walk Monday for community action, but only a couple of dozen people participated. Price, who was part of demonstrations last year over the death of George Floyd, was disturbed.

"There were so many people that were down there during that time. We're talking about a situation that was not even in our state, somebody — and God bless his soul — we didn't even personally know ... Yet, we're losing lives right in our community, and I don't see nobody out here marching," he told a reporter for The Courthouse News.

"Nobody's all in an uproar and upset and ready to go to war like they were against officers last summer," he added. "At this point in time, these streets should be filled up with people saying 'I'm sick and tired of stuff going on in my community the way that it's going on,' but yet, people remain silent."

Certainly we need to focus on our own community, which had needs long before COVID-19 found us, but there's something else to consider as our leaders bring residents together to talk about fixing our addiction to guns.

When Republican Gov. Bill Lee announced this week that firearms manufacturer Smith & Wesson will relocate its headquarters and gun-making operations to Maryville, Tennessee, from Massachusetts to create 750 new jobs, he touted the state's "commitment to the Second Amendment."

The news release said Smith & Wesson joins more than 20 small arms and ammunition manufacturers located in Tennessee, which already "ranks No. 1 in the nation for employment in the small arms and ammunition sector."

That may explain a lot. Our communities aren't the only ones numb to the pain of gun violence.

Isn't it horrifying to know that Tennessee is No. 1 in guns and ammo manufacture — as well as COVID-19?

It all adds up to making us one sick and deadly state.

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