Opinion: If Tennessee lawmakers cannot agree on temporary gun removal, then rally for a safe storage bill

Staff File Photo / Purchased silencers and other items fill a gun safe on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, at Shooters Depot on Shallowford Road while owners wait on paperwork to clear federal auspices.

If you believe what you read, you would conclude that the upcoming special session of the Tennessee legislature on public safety will be a dud, with little of substance likely to be passed.

But we're holding out hope that lawmakers at least find a way to pass legislation that to us seems like a no-brainer — to require the safe storage of guns.


So children have one less thing to worry about than finding a gun in the home and accidentally shooting themselves or someone else.

Think it's extremely rare? That we're spouting hyperbole?

Think again. Here are just a few of the instances:

Since January 2022, nine children under the age of 18 in Chattanooga have been shot accidentally. Four of those have come in 2023.

— Item: A 4-year-old boy in a Fisk Avenue home in Chattanooga accidentally shot himself in the head last Friday. Chattanooga Police found the boy conscious and alert, but he was taken to a local hospital in critical condition. Officers have not released many details about what led up to the shooting and are investigating.

— Item: A 1-year-old Ocoee Street child was accidentally shot by his grandmother in April. Police said she was holding the boy and reaching inside her purse, when she pulled the trigger of the gun and shot the child in the leg. The child was taken to a local hospital with non life-threatening injuries. He has since recovered. The grandmother was not charged in the case but will take a handgun safety course, according to police.

— Item: A 13-year-old Arlington Street boy was accidentally shot in February by his 2-year-old brother, who had found the gun in their home. The boy was taken to a local hospital with non life-threatening injuries and is recovering, according to police. No charges were filed in the case.

— Item: Six children — five aged 15 and one 13 — were shot during gunfire in a popular downtown business district in May 2022. Chattanooga police at the time said two groups apparently were advancing on each other when two people in one group pulled weapons and began firing at the other group. Authorities believe one or more teens were targeted but that some victims were hit unintentionally.

We say we're holding out hope for the safe storage of guns — one tiny morsel from the special session — because Gov. Bill Lee has included "Promoting Safe Storage" as one of the topics for the session. Specifically, legislation he'd like to see enacted "eliminates taxes on firearm safes and safety devices, provides free gun locks, expands safe storage training in state-approved safety courses, and creates a public service announcement to promote safe storage."

All those would help, but we'd like to see that taken a step forward, requiring guns to be stored safely and providing for consequences for those who don't if it can be proven they were negligent.

Officials who commented on each of the three aforementioned Chattanooga incidents involving children from this year, while not specifically mentioning a requirement of storing guns safely, implored gun owners to be more careful.

"Can't have [a gun] accessible to children," gun safety expert Chase Sneed told WTVC-TV after last week's incident. "And even if you do, you need to have it in some sort of safe, so they cannot get into it."

Parents, further, need to have safety conversations with their children, he said.

"I mean, it's really just all the parents," Sneed said. "You kind of want to teach your kids, you know, if there is a gun, if they see a gun, definitely don't touch it."

Following the April incident, Chattanooga Police provided several steps that might help parents with firearms.

— Do not leave your gun anywhere a child can find it.

— Invest in gun lock and a safe.

— Store ammunition and firearms in separate places.

— Educate children on the dangers of guns.

Owning a gun is a big responsibility, police said at the time. Gun owners should do what they can to keep everyone safe, they said.

After the February occurrence, Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp told WTVC she was gratified the "child is alive and recovering" and — while her office in no way wanted "to hamper the lawful and responsible carrying of firearms" — she planned to "spread awareness on gun violence, particularly on the large number of firearms stolen out of vehicles.

True to her word, several billboards with Wamp's photo and a message about guns being stolen from cars now have been posted around the city.

While we can hope for the prospects of a safe storage bill, a bill that merely specified that classes that qualify as training for issuance of an enhanced handgun carry permit or concealed handgun carry permit must include training on the use of gun locks failed in a House committee during the most recent session. However, that bill was filed again for the special session.

We understand the reticence of lawmakers who are afraid of broaching anything that smacks of limiting the constitutional right to own guns, even temporarily to those who are threats (though we would take that step), but keeping guns away from children seems another matter altogether.

We hope such a bill can find common ground among legislators.