Lawmakers want to enlist TennCare to help combat gun violence

Sen. London Lamar, Rep. Justin Jones say more focus is needed on crime prevention

Tennessee Senate Democrats
3 min readFeb 13, 2024

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NASHVILLE — To combat Tennessee’s gun violence epidemic, Sen. London Lamar, D-Memphis, and Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, want to enlist help from an unlikely place, the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare.

It’s possible thanks to a new policy implemented by the Biden administration, which opened up federal Medicaid dollars to violence prevention as one of the ways states and cities can address deadly shootings. President Joe Biden announced the novel approach in April 2021, and now the money is starting to flow to interested states.

These proven community violence intervention strategies reduce gun violence through tools other than incarceration. For example, violence interruption programs deploy trusted messengers work directly with individuals most likely to commit gun violence, intervene in conflicts, and connect people to social and economic services to reduce the likelihood of gun violence as an answer.

So far, seven states have passed laws approving the use of Medicaid match dollars to boost resources for violence prevention programs.

Under Senate Bill 1685/House Bill 1738 sponsored by Lamar and Jones, Tennessee’s governor would be authorized to request federal approval and matching Medicaid funds for a new or existing programs focused on reducing gun violence.

TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, and the administration would be responsible for identifying “existing” initiatives that would qualify for matched funding or officials could develop a new program. Sen. Lamar says this new approach is a perfect fit under the administration’s Office of Criminal Justice Programs, which already manages several grant programs related to reducing violence.

Sen. London Lamar:

“When gunshot wounds become the leading cause of death for children in your community, gun violence has become a public health issue. This legislation recognizes that we can stop some shootings — before they happen — by investing in evidence-based, community interventions that address the root cause of violence.”

Rep. Justin Jones:

“The legislature must take proactive measures to prevent shootings and address its root causes before gun violence occurs. This legislation represents an opportunity for us to try a more holistic approach to reducing gun violence — an approach that recognizes the effect issues, such as poverty, education and mental health, have on crime. It is a vital step in expanding the funding and resources necessary to protect our communities. Tennesseans are begging us to take real action and empower them in the work they are already doing on the ground towards gun violence prevention.”

Gun violence higher in Tennessee

Tennessee is the top state in the South for violent crime and seventh highest in the nation for firearm homicides, according to FBI and CDC statistics compiled by TNUnderTheGun.com.

Worse yet, reports show gunshot wounds now are the leading cause of death for Tennessee children.

Since the legislature ended session on April 21, 2023 without taking action to reduce gun violence, there have been more than 1,000 shootings in Tennessee, resulting in the deaths of 455 adults and children as well injuries for an additional 503 adults and children.

Gun violence in the Volunteer State has risen consistently over the last decade parallel to the Republican-controlled legislature eliminating many gun safety measures.

Gun violence also brings a hefty price tag. National studies from the Government Accountability Office and Harvard Medical School have shown that the cost of caring for gunshot survivors ranges from $1 billion in initial treatments to $2.5 billion over the 12 months post-injury.

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Tennessee Senate Democrats

Fighting for everyday people in the Tennessee General Assembly