A customer at ABQ Guns in Albuquerque. Recent mass shootings have reignited the debate over gun legislation, including red flag laws and expanded background checks. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Bloomberg, Getty Images)
A day after a disgruntled employee opened fire in a Collierville Kroger, killing one woman and injuring 14 others, Gov. Bill Lee said he believes there is no connection between the shooting and a constitutional carry law he signed this year.
Lee called the incident a “terrible shooting” and tragedy, while expressing sorrow for victims and their families, including Kroger employee Olivia King, who lost her life. He said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating the case, and the Department of Safety and Homeland Security is working with local authorities.
But he discounted the effect of the constitutional carry law he pushed through the Legislature this year, which enables people without felony, DUI or domestic violence convictions to carry handguns. No longer do eligible Tennesseans have to obtain a state permit or take previously required training.
According to news reports, the alleged shooter is Uk Thang, 29, who is believed to have been a third-party vendor who worked at the Kroger store. He killed himself as law enforcement arrived at the scene Thursday evening, reports show.
Ten people injured in the shooting worked at the Kroger on New Byhalia Road in southeast Shelby County. Five others who sustained injuries were customers.
Erika Kelley, a volunteer with the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action and a member of the Everytown Survivor Network, said shortly after the Thursday shooting incident, “Our hearts are with all those impacted by this devastating shooting.” Her son, Dontae, was shot and killed in 2016.
“No one should have to worry about gun violence while they’re shopping for groceries, playing in a park, or just going about their lives, but because of weaker gun laws, we have to. The club of people like me whose lives are changed forever by gun violence keeps getting bigger, and it’ll keep growing unless our lawmakers step up and do something,” Kelley said in a statement.
Other representatives of the group said even as the nation struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, the “nation’s gun violence epidemic rages on” and called on lawmakers to bring an end to it.
According to the group, Tennessee has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the nation with 1,193 people killed by guns in an average year and another 2,220 wounded.
Despite those figures, the Legislature passed the permitless carry bill this year and Gov. Lee signed it into law, despite the objections of law enforcement officials, faith leaders and medical professionals, the group noted in a statement. It pointed out Kroger prohibited open carry of firearms in its stores two years ago.
House Minority Leader Leader Karen Camper of Memphis expressed condolences to the victims and their families in the aftermath of what she called a “horrible mass shooting.”
“This is a scene that continues to play out across the country and now comes to our own backyard. While there will be time in the future for reasoned discussion about the causes of this tragedy … this is not that time. This is a time for us to come together for thoughtful reflection and prayer for all the victims and their families,” said Camper, a Democrat.
Sen. Raumesh Akbari, a Memphis Democrat who chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus, said her heart aches for families “caught in yet another act of senseless gun violence.”
“My family is praying for these victims and their caregivers, but it’s going to take collective action from us all to heal the scars of this tragedy. No one should have to watch over their shoulder at work or picking up groceries. This cannot be the cost of living in a free society,” Akbari said.
Republican Sen. Paul Rose of Covington, who represents the Collierville area, tweeted Thursday that he was “horrified” to hear about the act of “senseless violence” in the community.
“Sending thoughts and prayers to everyone involved. Thank you to the first responders for the quick response and aid,” he said.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Crossville Republican, sent out a similar response, saying his prayers are with the victims and their families as well as the Collierville community at a “difficult” time.
“We are grateful to local law enforcement & the first responders for their heroic efforts in securing the scene & administering aid to the injured,” Sexton said in the tweet.
Kroger issued a statement saying it is learning of “truly heroic acts” by associates, customers and first responders “selflessly helping to protect and save others.”
It is unclear whether the alleged shooter had any sort of criminal background that would have prevented him from carrying or obtaining a weapon.
Tennessee’s constitutional carry law does not apply to those under 21, unless they serve in the armed forces or Tennessee National Guard. It also stops those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, as well as those subject to an order of protection, from carrying without a license.
The new law also stiffens penalties for anyone convicted of a dangerous felony, making it a Class E felony if they are caught possessing a firearm.
Harsher penalties also can be levied for the theft of a gun. The law, however, contains no penalty for leaving weapons in an unlocked vehicle.
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