Data links Tennessee’s gun violence surge to abolished gun safety laws
Thousands of illicit firearms now flooding Tennessee, TBI data shows
NASHVILLE — The uptick of gun violence in Tennessee started right around 2010, the same year Republicans won control of the Tennessee General Assembly and passed a law removing the restriction on guns in bars.
Then, nearly every year after, Republicans abolished even more gun safety laws, allowing guns in cars, parks and city buses, and later to let people go armed in public without training or background checks.
And, like falling dominoes, the number of people and children dying from gunshot wounds in the state just kept climbing. In fact, statistics show a shocking correlation between the surge in gun violence in Tennessee and the dismantling of gun safety regulations by Republican lawmakers since 2010.
The stark findings highlight the urgent need for legislative action to restore commons sense rules and prevent shootings, says Sen. London Lamar, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, whose caucus released the research detailing Tennessee’s epidemic of gun violence to build support for reform during August’s special session on public safety.
“After a decade of Republicans eliminating gun safety laws, shootings are now the leading cause of death for children in Tennessee and innocent people are dying every day,” Lamar said. “Ending gun violence has always been one of my top priorities, and I will keep fighting for gun safety until we finally restore some sanity to our laws.”
Senate Democrats have built a website, TNUnderTheGun.com, to underscore the urgent need for gun reforms that keep children and families safe. The website shows what happened after the Republican Party gained full control over Tennessee government in 2011 and began rapidly loosening gun laws.
- 2013: “Guns in Trunks” law is passed, allowing permit holders to store loaded guns in their vehicles, even on private property that prohibits weapons.
- 2015: “Guns in Parks” law allows is passed, allowing permit holder to carry loaded guns in any public park or playground, including those used by schools.
- 2017: “Guns on Buses” law is passed, allowing permit holders to carry loaded guns on public transportation.
Of notable concern is the “Guns in Trunks” law, enacted in 2013 and expanded in 2014. Since these laws were enacted, law enforcement has tracked an astronomical rise in gun thefts from vehicles. In Nashville and Memphis, for example, gun thefts have increased over 500 percent in just a decade.
TBI says at least 5,347 firearms were stolen out of vehicles statewide in 2022 and nearly 4,900 were stolen from vehicles statewide the year before.
The influx of illicit firearms into communities has correlated with a corresponding surge in gun violence, particularly homicides. These illegal guns have been used to cause all kinds of trauma: terrorizing peaceful neighborhoods, killing innocent people and even firing on police officers.
Law enforcement officials have consistently urged the legislature to address these issues by repealing or amending the law, but their pleas have been repeatedly rejected.
Then, in 2021, Republican lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly achieved a goal they had been working toward for a decade: Permitless carry. This law eliminated required gun permits, gun safety classes and background checks for people going armed in public.
Law enforcement and public safety experts strongly opposed permitless carry, too.
For good reason: The research illustrates a clear relationship between the repeal of gun safety laws and the troubling escalation of gun violence in the state.
As the grim statistics reveal, injuries from firearms have now become the leading cause of death among children in Tennessee.
But the carnage is not limited to children. TNUnderTheGun.com includes the latest CDC research on gun violence, which shows that 1,569 Tennesseans — a record number — were killed by firearms in 2021, marking a staggering 58 percent surge in fatalities compared to a decade ago.
That’s roughly one person dying from gunshot wounds every 5.6 hours.
The increase in gun violence is even worse for intentional firearm homicides. The number of Tennesseans who were fatally shot in a homicide more than doubled from 2011 to 2021 for both adults and children — increasing 120 percent for victims of all ages and 155 percent for juvenile victims ages 0–17.
In a nationwide context, Tennessee stands as an outlier in terms of gun-related deaths. The state continues to exceed the national average in three critical categories: firearm fatalities, firearm homicides, and firearm suicides.
Notably, Tennessee ranks 11th in the nation for percentage of people who die from gunshot wounds and holds the distressing distinction of being ninth in the U.S. for the percentage of children falling victim to fatal firearm injuries.
Giffords Law Center, a nonprofit research organization that tracks and analyzes legislation in all 50 states, gave Tennessee lawmakers an “F” for gun policies on its annual report card on gun laws.
“Since we started this project in 2010, the evidence has been clear and consistent: strong gun laws save lives, but only in the states that are willing to act,” the Giffords website says.
The politicians who have dismantled Tennessee’s gun safety laws have used a variety of flawed arguments to push these policies into law.
The myth that “more guns make us safer” is directly challenged by Tennessee’s gun violence and crime rates. Despite the rhetoric, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report ranks Tennessee with the third-highest rate of violent crime in murders across the nation and the highest among southern states.
Even more say the solution to gun violence is tougher, longer sentencing. If police apprehend shooters (and many times they do not), Tennessee already has some of the harshest adult and juvenile sentencing laws in the nation. But these laws have not stemmed the rising death toll of gun violence.
Now, the public wants a new approach: prevention.
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