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Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action Respond After Three High Schoolers Shot and Killed in Knoxville in the Last Three Weeks

February 18, 2021

The Tennessee chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action released the following statement after Janaria Muhammad, a 15-year-old student at Austin East High School in Knoxville, was shot and killed on Tuesday night. Muhammad is the third student shot and killed from Austin East High School in the last three weeks. Justin Taylor, a 15-year-old student, and Stanley Freeman, Jr., a 16-year-old were also shot and killed. 

“My heart is with the loved ones of Janaria, Justin and Stanley. Sadly, I also know what it feels like to have a child taken by gun violence,” said Zenobia Dobson, a volunteer leader with the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action andan Everytown Survivor Fellow from Knoxville whose son, Zaevion Dobson, was shot and killed when he shielded his friends in a shooting when he was 15. “It is shameful that during the same week that three children in our community have been taken by gun violence, our lawmakers are pushing a dangerous permitless carry bill that would only exacerbate our gun violence crisis. We are committed to fighting this bill and pushing for common-sense gun safety laws so that no family has to have a loved one taken by gun violence again.”

Gun violence in the city has led to a crisis point and the department has already responded to at least 12 homicides in 2021, according to Police Chief Eve Thompson. Yesterday, Mayor Kincannon announced she will propose a $1 million amendment to the city budget for community-based violence prevention and intervention programs. In the announcement she noted that “these programs have proven effective at reducing violence elsewhere in the U.S.” 

However, state lawmakers have continued to push dangerous permitless carry legislation that was widely opposed last session. Lawmakers should prioritize their constituents rather than their relationships with the gun lobby this session — starting with extreme risk laws. 

What to know about permitless carry in Tennessee:

  • Permitless carry legislation like HB 18 and HB 786, which strips states of essential permitting and training standards for carrying concealed guns in public, allows people to carry a loaded firearm in public without a background check or any safety training. Permitless carry allows extremists and white supremacists to evade background check requirements and safeguards to responsible gun ownership.
  • Last session, broad coalitions of gun safety instructors, law enforcement officials, business leaders, elected officials, faith leaders, and healthcare executives helped block this deadly legislation. In Knoxville, Mayor Indya Kincannon, Police Chief Eve Thomas, and Councilwoman Seema Singh have opposed the policy. In Memphis, Police Director Michael Rallings, Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, and the Memphis Crime Commission have urged lawmakers to reject permitless carry. In Nashville, District Attorney Glenn Funk and Mayor John Cooper have spoken out against the bill. The director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations also testified against the bill. 
  • Ninety-three percent of recent Tennessee voters support requiring a permit to carry a loaded handgun in public — including 92 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of gun-owning householdsSixty-five percent of recent voters would be less likely to vote for Gov. Lee if he signed legislation that would eliminate the requirement to get a permit in order to carry a loaded handgun in public. More information about permitless carry is available here.

What to know aboutgun violence in Tennessee

  • In Tennessee, on average, 1,143 people are shot and killed and 2,220 others are wounded by guns every year.
  • An average of 460 people in Tennessee die by gun homicide every year; Tennessee has the eighth highest rate of gun homicide in the United States. Black people in Tennessee are eight more likely to die by gun homicide as white people.
  • Homicide levels in major cities in Tennessee, including Memphis and Nashville, have risen over the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the root causes of gun violence and brought unprecedented challenges to the work of local gun violence intervention programs. 

Statistics about gun violence in Tennessee are available here, and Everytown’s Gun Law Navigator – which shows how Tennessee gun laws compare to those of other states – is available here.

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