June 24, 2022 12:00pm

Gun violence and gangs: Yes, we have a problem

More than three-fourths of a group of influential Chattanoogans — 78% — said they are very concerned about the spate of violent gun crime that has led news cycles and catapulted the Scenic City into a national spotlight.

Photo of Chris Vass
Chattanooga, TN Correspondent

More than three-fourths of a group of influential Chattanoogans — 78% — said they are very concerned about the spate of violent gun crime that has led news cycles and catapulted the Scenic City into a national spotlight.

The Chattanooga Power Poll focused on violent crime in this month’s survey.

The results were sobering and troubling; a large majority says Chattanooga has a violent gun crime problem and a gang problem. But just over half are confident elected leaders can deal effectively with the violence.

The Power Poll results come in a heady week of firearm-related developments: The Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3, struck down limits on who can carry firearms in public. And Congress is nearing a bipartisan deal on a gun safety bill.

When asked, “How concerned are you about violent gun crime;” 78% said “deeply concerned;” 19% said “somewhat concerned;” and only 2% said “not concerned.”

(Read more: 3 dead, 17 victims total after shooting on McCallie Avenue)

Nick Decosimo, a senior financial adviser, put the issue in a broader context.

“Describing the problem as “gun” violence puts the emphasis in the wrong place,” he wrote. “There’s also ‘knife’ violence and ‘fist’ violence and even ‘verbal’ violence.”

The common denominator, he noted, is “violence.” Our media landscape, encompassing movies, video games, TV, frequently showcase violence as “praiseworthy or as commonplace.”

Our culture will remain violent “until we change that message.”

In the past, there have been plenty of debates about whether Chattanooga has a gang problem — for years, elected leaders were loathe to even use the word. “Gang” was replaced by “group” when the city launched the Violence Reduction Initiative.

But far and away Power Poll members think the city does have a gang problem: 86% said “yes” in answer to the question, “Do you think Chattanooga has a gang problem?” Only 1% said “no” while another 12.5% said they needed more information.

Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd said the gang problems have wide-reaching implications, beyond the horrific toll on families.

“It is affecting the country’s opinion of Chattanooga, which will have economic ramifications on our community,” he wrote.

To be sure, our elected leaders have a challenge in addressing this complex issue.

Confidence in that response is split: In answer to “How confident are you that the city and county’s elected leadership is capable of crafting effective strategies — and following through with funding, partnerships, etc. — to deal with this challenge?” 51% said they have some measure of confidence: 4.5 % said “very” confident while 47% said "somewhat" confident. Another 45% said “not confident” and another 3.4% said they are unsure.

(Read more: Timeline of events leading up to McCallie Avenue shooting.)

Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean said relying on government is wrongheaded.

“Maybe instead of putting all of our focus on blaming government for all of our problems, we should hold parents accountable for the actions of their children,” he wrote.

“To hear that there is no place for young people to go at 2 a.m. is ridiculous. Home, yes, home is the only place a young person needs to be at that time of the night. We expect the government to discipline and entertain our children after we fail to do so. Then we blame the government for their bad behavior and demand the government correct them in a manner that we put under a microscope to scrutinize.”

Boyd noted that the criminal justice system need to adapt to the violence and the trends.

“It seems the local elected leadership and the DA’s office are not facing the facts that we need to get very very serious about putting gang members behind bars and keeping them there for their full terms without parole.”

An uptick in gun violence invariably leads to debate about the proliferation of firearms. Franklin McCallie, founder at Chattanooga Connected, noted that a majority of nations limit gun ownership and experience low citizen gun fatalities compared to the U.S.

Many people continue to say that “their ‘Second Amendment right’ to own whatever gun they want is sacrosanct compared to the ‘life and liberty’ of our school children. What does it take for eyes to see that it is guns murdering our school children?”

He highlighted a recent commentary (June 20, Chattanooga Times editorial page) by New York Times columnist Charles Blow

“I understand better why the split in eyesight,” he wrote. “Blow’s commentary is not specifically about gun ownership. It is about hysteria and the ability to ‘see and understand.’ I recommend this editorial for thoughtful discussion among citizens of diverse viewpoints.”

Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, president of Zach Wamp Consulting, summed up the challenge: “The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.”

From the Power Poll results, it appears as if the community is facing it.

As a final note on the serious side of the June survey: If you have not been following TFP staff writers LaShawn Pagan and David Floyd’s coverage of what is happening in our streets, take a few minutes and read their stories at timesfreepress.com. And be sure to check out Chattanooga Times editorial page Editor Pam Sohn’s piece in this Sunday edition. It will be worth your time, I promise.

(Read more: Community holds vigil for victim in McCallie Avenue shooting)

(Read more: Witnesses says an argument at Station Street nightclub preceded Chattanooga shooting; owner says fight was avoided)

On a much lighter note, a bunch of Power Pollers offered their recommendations on what to binge watch. Some of the picks will take your mind off the headlines; all will give you a reason to stay in air-conditioned comfort: Lincoln Lawyer; Breaking Bad; Picard; Blue Bloods; The Old Man; All American; The Wire (to celebrate its 20th anniversary; it is also a fitting show for these questions. Sadly gun violence is nothing new but is now reaching areas more visible and high profile); Why Women Kill (whoa!); Hacks; Starstruck; America’s Got Talent; Stranger Things; Reacher; The Offer; Food Network; Yellowstone; Gaslit; Ozark; Winning Time; and yes, the Braves.

Several of you said you are too busy enjoying the outdoors or didn’t have time for hours of TV. And one respondent is waiting patiently for the return of Ted Lasso. Thanks for playing along!

Contact Chris Vass, public editor at the Times Free Press, at cvass@timesfreepress.com or cvass@powerpoll.com.

Power Poll Members: Do you have a friend or colleague who should be on Power Poll? Please invite them to join!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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