This past weekend, as warmer weather and a post-pandemic mood called crowds out to Beale Street, bullets crashed the party.
And the ones firing them seemed to be more driven by the invincibility of their weapons and the urge to settle a grudge than in the power of the police.
Which isn’t surprising – given how the fetishization of guns and laws which make it easier to obtain may be reducing police to fixtures, not enforcers.
According to an MPD preliminary report, sometime around or after 2 a.m. Sunday, two groups of men began shooting at each other outside of The Green Room on Beale Street. One wound up dead, while two were seriously injured.
This shootout happened in front of Memphis police officers who had been outside the club, their presence a blur to the shooters.
Three of the officers fired back at the shooters and have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of an investigation.
Said MPD Director C.J. Davis in a statement: “The Memphis Police Department is outraged at the senseless and brazen acts of violence that took place this morning in the presence of officers.
“The proliferation of gun violence continues at epic levels throughout our nation; however, we are committed to bringing every resource to bear to end these critical incidents in our city…”
Yet anyone who believes that outbreak of violence on one of the nation’s most iconic streets is solely a reflection of violence and dysfunction in Memphis would be wrong.
Memphis shooting circumstances echo Cedar Rapids, 30 minutes before
They’d be wrong because around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, just 30 minutes before the bullets began flying on Beale Street and more than eight hours away, a gunfight erupted inside a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, nightclub. Two people were killed in this shooting, and 10 were injured.
And they weren’t deterred by the police, who were still outside the club after being summoned to deal with an earlier incident.
Right now, it’s unclear how all that bad blood curdled into enough venom to poison the minds of the perpetrators to the point where they let loose with guns in places where the bullets could get people who got in the way.
But what’s stunningly clear is that they don’t care if the police are nearby, or if the police are watching.
In a way, this isn’t that surprising.
Tennessee’s permitless carry law
Tennessee is a state where people older than 21 can openly carry a gun without any training and without a permit. We live in a nation where people can buy kits to assemble guns, called “ghost guns” that are virtually untraceable by law enforcement.
It’s easy to see how those who would fire a gun in public could come to believe that they have more power than the police, so why would they hold off on having a shootout in front of the police? Or near the police?
Some probably believe they can outshoot the police.
None of us can say that we weren’t warned about this. In fact, the police warned us all about this.
Last year this time, when Gov. Bill Lee signed the permitless carry bill into law even though the state’s leading law enforcement agencies opposed it, saying that it would lead to more crime and make officers more vulnerable to being shot.
The fight against ‘Ghost guns’
Law enforcement groups have also long opposed ghost guns. As they should, considering that, according to federal authorities, more than 23,000 in unmarked guns were found at crime scenes between 2016 and 2020.
Yesterday, President Joe Biden announced new federal regulations on ghost guns.
Among other things, the regulations will require commercial manufacturers of the guns to be licensed and to include serial numbers on unfinished parts, and sellers will have to run background checks on the buyers.
Of course, some gun groups have vowed to sue the administration over the regulations, saying that they violate Second Amendment rights.
But come on. A serial number on an instrument of death is a violation of someone’s Second Amendment rights?
If anyone is being violated here, it is the people who may be killed by someone who won’t be caught because the gun is untraceable.
Such craziness is what led us to the shooting on Beale Street and in Cedar Rapids. It has led us to a point where people acting intentionally or on impulse believe any power the gun conveys usurps any power that the police might have.
In these moments abetted by NRA-influenced laws that hold reasonable gun regulations as sacrilegious, the police are reduced to bystanders. Just like anyone who gets in the way of the bullets.
And as long as that situation persists, anyone who goes out to have a good time could risk coming home in a body bag.
No matter how many police are around.
Tonyaa Weathersbee can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @tonyaajw