29 people have died in mass shootings in Tennessee this year — already a record death toll in July
New website TNUnderTheGun.com chronicles the epidemic of gun violence in Tennessee ahead of the governor’s special session
NASHVILLE — The mass shooting at The Covenant School that left six people dead, including three 9-year-olds, shocked families throughout Tennessee this spring. But the tragedy at Covenant wasn’t the state’s first — or last — mass murder with a firearm this year.
State gun violence statistics, compiled by a new website, show that the March school shooting is only one grizzly event within an epidemic of gun violence that has been increasingly endangering families in the state for more than a decade.
In fact, with five months left in 2023, Tennessee has already set a new annual record for the number of people who have been killed in mass shootings: 29.
Children accounted for more than a third of these homicides.
TNUnderTheGun.com, a new project by the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus, is tracking shootings like these throughout the state and compiling data to show the far-reaching consequences of deadly gun violence.
Since Jan. 1, there have been at least 13 mass shootings in Tennessee resulting in the deaths of 19 adults and 10 children, as well as bullet wounds for 45 additional adults and 4 children.
The previous death toll record was set in 2021, when 15 mass shootings in Tennessee resulted in 20 deaths and 52 firearm injuries. Last calendar year, there were 17 mass shootings with 12 deaths and 57 injuries.
Mass shootings are defined as a shooting incident where at least four people are injured or killed, not including the shooter.
Additionally, there have been three mass murders with a firearm (defined as four or more people killed excluding the assailant) in 2023, the most since at least 2014: The Covenant School shooting and two murder-suicide, family annihilation events.
The website shows the majority of mass shootings have taken place in Memphis, but these horrific events have occurred in all three grand divisions and in both urban and rural communities.
Tennessee’s first mass shooting this year happened in January in the town of Luttrell, Tenn., where a 52-year-old man shot four children, including two 5-year-old girls, a 9-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl, before setting their home on fire and fatally shooting himself. His wife reportedly told TBI agents that her husband had been saying there was a “devil in his head” telling him to harm himself.
Gunfire now the leading cause of death for Tenn. kids
The mass shootings seen in Tennessee this year are a horrific reflection of larger trends seen in recent crime data. Tennessee’s gun violence epidemic is getting worse and more children are dying because of it.
Between 2011 and 2021, the rate of firearm homicides for children, ages 0–17, increased 155 percent, according to CDC data included on TNUnderTheGun. Tennessee had the fifth highest rate of firearm homicides for children in the nation.
The young, developing bodies of children are uniquely vulnerable to gun violence. As firearm deaths have reached historic highs over the last decade, the Sycamore Institute reports that gunfire has become the leading cause of death among Tennessee children ages 1 to 18. More than traffic wrecks and cancer.
Special session on ‘public safety’
TNUnderTheGun.com is launching just weeks ahead of a special session promised by Gov. Bill Lee. Though the governor has not officially called the session, lawmakers are expected to return to the state capitol on Aug. 21 to debate various proposals related to “public safety.”
Lee, a Republican, had urged state lawmakers in the wake of The Covenant School shooting to pass legislation that would allow police to temporarily take firearms from a person who is threatening violence to others or harm to themselves.
Despite the slaughter of innocent children by gunfire, Republicans ended session in April without taking action on the governor’s order of protection proposal nor any other gun safety measure that could prevent future shootings.
While members of the controlling party have spoken out against many evidence-based solutions, the public has shown consistent support for such policies, including “red flag” laws, as well as many other common sense gun safety reforms.
TNUnderTheGun.com also includes a section featuring the results of public opinion research, which shows widespread, bipartisan support for gun safety reform. For example, a poll conducted in April showed:
- 88% of Tennesseans support universal background checks for gun purchases;
- 82% support safe storage laws;
- 70% support red flag laws, which allow police to remove firearms from dangerous individuals; and
- 70% oppose a move to lower Tennessee’s legal age to carry a gun from 21 to 18.
Polling conducted by Vanderbilt University in the spring of 2023 similarly included questions about support for “red flag” laws. The results showed that 75% of Tennesseans support red flag laws to prevent school shootings — including a strong majority (67%) of self-identified MAGA Republicans.
Mass killing in Tennessee and the U.S.
Unrelated to the launch of TNUnderTheGun.com, the AP reported this week that the first six months of 2023 have been the deadliest six months of mass killings recorded in the U.S. since at least 2006.
From Jan. 1 to June 30, the nation endured 28 mass killings — defined as four or more people dying, not including the assailant, as a result of an attack.
Three of those mass murders were in Tennessee. All involved firearms.
A prominent Republican and parent, whose children were at The Covenant School on March 27 when a shooter opened fire, featured prominently in the AP’s story. “What a ghastly milestone,” said Brent Leatherwood. “You never think your family would be a part of a statistic like that.”
Since the shooting at their Christian school, The Covenant School families have been working together to advocate for state reforms to curb gun violence.
Statistics on mass shootings only show a fraction of the deadly gun violence crisis unfolding in the Volunteer State. In the coming days, TNUnderTheGun.com will publish additional information, research and statistics to further reporting on the epidemic of gun violence in Tennessee.
The website is maintained and updated by staff of the Senate Democratic Caucus, including the lead researcher, Beth Joslin Roth, who founded Safe Tennessee — a nonprofit advocating for gun violence prevention.