MEMPHIS, Tenn. — 2021 and 2020 had the highest numbers of gun-related deaths ever recorded nationwide.
In response, some places have passed permitless carry laws. These are laws allowing a gun owner to carry a weapon in public without a permit and they are becoming increasingly popular.
Memphis native Doneisha Eddings is hoping the permitless carry law that was just enacted last year in Tennessee will be reversed.
The law allows gun owners to carry a weapon in public without a permit or training.
Eddings has lost two family members to gun violence and believes loosening restrictions will make crime worse.
On Christmas Eve, three bullets went through the Edding’s home. Doneisha’s little brother, Artemis “Shun” Rayford, was hit.
“It was blood everywhere in the living room. And when I got over there, he was in my mother’s arms,” said Eddings. “She was just holding him crying. I knew I couldn't… I couldn't take it. I had to walk back out. It was sad. I couldn't take it.”
12-year-old Rayford died from a stray bullet. His death came just months after Tennessee adopted a permitless carry law.
Eddings said she feels the loosened restrictions contributed to an increase in gun violence and her brother’s death. No suspect has been arrested yet in his case.
“I wouldn’t say that he got killed because of the law. But the law is a part of it,” said Eddings.
Eddings found out her brother agreed with her. A few weeks before he was killed, Shun wrote a letter to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for a school assignment.
Eddings read us the letter, which read, in part: “I'm a sixth-grader at Sherwood Middle School, and it is my opinion that this new law will be bad and people will be murdered, and I think that people should not have a gun…” wrote 12-year-old Shun.
“It was very messed up that we had to see this letter after he passed from a senseless killing…It leaves me speechless. I don't even know what to say,” said Eddings.
She’s now worried the law will mean more guns on the streets in the hands of the wrong people.
John Harris, a practicing attorney, and member of the Tennessee Firearms Association said this will not be the case. “When talking about permitting systems, or enabling people to carry, we're really talking about allowing people who are not opportunistic in the criminal element. The criminal element is going to have access to firearms, whether we make them accessible or not to the public, whether we make them available through a permitting system or not, they're still going to have access to these firearms.”
Currently, 22 states have permitless carry laws. Ohio and Indiana are enacting permitless carry laws this year.
But we wondered—do permitless carry laws lead to higher crime rates overall? Right now, there is not sufficient data to support the claim that these laws alone lead to more crime.
“Loosening the requirements to carry handguns and public can correlate with an increase in crime, but it will take a few years before there's enough data out there to create and conduct studies to see the effect of these permitless carry laws,” said Southern Methodist University Professor Eric Ruben.
In Tennessee, violent crimes did spike in 2021 right after the law was passed, but violent crime rates in 2022 have remained fairly consistent with years past.
Across the country, gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety found states with few gun restrictions have on average, higher numbers of gun deaths.
California, a state with strict gun control laws, has a firearm homicide rate of 8.5 per 100,000 people. In Mississippi, where fewer restrictions are written into the law, the firearm homicide rate is nearly three times that — 28.6 per 100,000 people.
“We are indeed at a moment, I think, where a lot of people are scared,” said Ruben. “There has been an uptick in crime, and I think that the uptick in crime, even though it's really hard to pick up on any one thing, has provided a rationale for further loosening the law as the government self-defense, and also the law with respect to carrying weapons in public.”
Before permitless carry laws, people had to pass a background check to buy the gun and then go through safety training to get the permit to carry the gun. Now, background checks are still required to purchase the firearm but training isn’t. The old process could take weeks, but the new process can be much shorter.
“I would prefer that people get training,” said longtime firearms safety instructor, Tim Carroll. “But I don't think they should ask the government for permission, and I don't think the government should require people get training before they can carry.”
Carroll owns LFX Firearms Training in Knoxville, Tennessee. He said he’s lost 60% of his business since permitless carry passed in Tennessee, but he is glad more people can now defend themselves.
“I think there is a benefit to permitless carry. Being armed is, in my opinion, important for those in society who cannot defend themselves through regular means. In my classes, about half of the folks who are showing up are women. A lot of the folks who are showing up or are elderly folks, people who couldn't take care of themselves. So, I think it's important for them to be able to defend themselves.”
Harris agreed and said these laws give more power to the everyday citizen. “We've seen this in Tennessee, as the general population is increasingly armed, the criminal element, the opportunistic criminal element, is aware, increasingly, that their potential victims might be armed. I think that does have a chilling effect on certain categories of violent crime, not all of them,” said Harris.
Still, some families would like to see those who carry go through the training and get a permit. “If you feel like you should want to carry a gun around, just get a permit to carry that gun,” said Eddings.
Eddings is fighting along with her family to reverse permitless carry in her state, hoping to turn her family’s sorrow into fewer guns on the streets in her community.
“I'm gonna keep pushing. I'm gonna push all I can push to reverse this law. Because we need our kids. We need our future,” said Eddings.
However, Ruben and others studying the growth of these laws believe these kinds of carry laws are only going to expand. “It wouldn't be surprising if 25 of the states have a permitless carry law within by the end of the year," said Ruben.