Explaining later why he signed the law, Lee had brushed aside objections from law enforcement, saying, “It shouldn’t be hard for law-abiding Tennesseans to exercise their Second Amendment rights.” Lee also apparently ignored data that had shown a dramatic uptick throughout 2021 in gun-related homicides in the city of Memphis, with many of those deaths occurring to children.
To the contrary, as reported by the Tennesseean, Lee warmly thanked the National Rife Association (NRA) last year for helping him pass the law (acting through Lee’s legislative liaison, NRA director Matt Herriman, the gun lobby essentially wrote it), which he characterized as a “public safety measure.” He also praised the bill itself for “allow[ing] the citizenry to be protected against a tyrannical government.” It’s fairly clear that children such as Rayford were never a serious consideration and the measure was solely driven by the gun lobby.
On Thursday, the Post’s Editorial Board followed up on Beachum’s original story, explaining how gun violence has surged leading up to and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. An extraordinary number of the victims have been children.
Memphis had a record number of homicides last year, including 31 children who were killed. About 150 other children were shot. The city is far from alone in seeing young lives needlessly lost to gun violence. The Post has documented that on average in the United States, at least one child is shot every hour of every day. Many survive but too many die. Nine children in D.C. were killed in gun homicides last year. The toll—which doesn’t include suicides or unintentional shootings—was 11 in Los Angeles, 36 in Philadelphia and 59 in Chicago. A surge in pandemic gun buying has helped fuel what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculated to be a roughly 50% increase in the rate of gun deaths of children 14 and younger from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.
The Post ends its editorial with a plea for government officials to recognize the unchecked spread of guns for the public health issue it is.
Of course, gun proponents will point out that there is no proof that Tennessee’s slavish capitulation to the gun manufacturers’ lobby had anything to do with Rayford’s death. From the reports thus far, it’s possible that no one will ever know who pulled the trigger that killed him. But for Republicans, the right to own guns and the harm they actually can cause are no longer even equivalent concerns.
Even the phrase “Second Amendment rights” now carries with it the clear implication of the “right” to threaten others with a gun in the name of “freedom” (a related bill is now winding through the Tennessee legislature lowering the legal gun-carrying age threshold to 18). And this almost religious, pro-gun mindset certainly doesn’t contemplate the victims of gun violence in the country’s cities, because racism is now part of the equation. Objections to gun control are invariably cast in racially coded terms like “those people don’t pay attention to gun laws,” thus perversely justifying more and more guns in the hands of “law-abiding” (read: white) citizens.
But many states are now rendering that specious objection completely moot: There are, increasingly, fewer and fewer gun laws to “pay attention” to. With the elimination of nearly all common-sense restrictions on who can use, buy, and carry guns in places like Tennessee, Texas, and other Republican-dominated states, there is only one certain outcome, the same outcome that was obvious to a 12-year-old boy just before his life was brutally cut short:
“People will be murdered.”