America’s most dangerous city

Gun violence: the other epidemic


Angela Yuan

Members of the Amnesty Club place their painted handprints on a banner in solidarity of the gun violence crisis. The group received recognition from Amnesty International USA for their efforts in breaking the cycle of gun violence.

Gunshots echo through the streets and bullets ricochet as Memphians endure the dangerous gun violence that plagues the city. After a Wall St. study declared Memphis the most dangerous city in the United States, the country became aware of what Memphians already knew. Most of this stems from the gun violence that runs rampant through many neighborhoods in Memphis as well as the surrounding areas. 

“I feel like gun violence is something that affects human life,” Charisse Conard (11) said. “Human life comes over your gun, [so if] some people might double check to make sure you don’t have any mental issues before you get that gun, I feel like human life comes first.”

Despite the high death tolls in the city, Tennessee law has permitted the majority of its residents to openly carry loaded handguns without a permit or training. These laws have sparked discourse among locals who feel that they lack the necessary gravitas when dealing with human life, particularly those trapped in the cyclical nature of violence in their neighborhoods.

“I don’t think [gun laws are] quite fair because people with the license to have a gun now are most likely not using it for the right reasons,” Brooklyn Brunt (10) said. “This causes even more lives to be lost. … If you’re from a violent area, you’re most likely going to engage in violent activities based on your surroundings, who you’re surrounded by and the climate.”

Not only has Memphis been ranked the most dangerous city in the country, but it was also found to have the second highest homicide rate in any metro area nationwide. Statistics such as these often overshadow the good things about Memphis.

“It makes me disappointed because the first thing other people say when I say I’m from Memphis is ‘Oh you guys were number one in crime, right?’” Conard said. “It used to be barbecue and Elvis, and those are very cool things that I’m proud of, but now we’re famous for crime. … It really tarnishes our name.”

Alice Willard

Mental health is an extreme risk factor for gun violence, given that those with certain mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder are more likely to commit a violent crime with an assault weapon. Removing the stigma around mental illness is an important step in sparking a change.

“I feel like if people focused more on actually validating someone’s emotions and getting a healthy outlet for frustration and anger … alongside gun laws and gun control, [it] would be a very big benefit to everyone,” Conard said. 

Conard states that healthy outlets and better community planning are an important contributing factor to slowing, if not completely stopping, the spread of gun violence. Experiments in Minneapolis have proven that prioritizing prevention and being proactive result in a 62% reduction in youth gunshot victims.

“Nowadays, the gun violence is mainly [caused by] teenagers,” Brunt said. “I think we should make more extracurricular activities and more basketball courts and football fields and other things like that to engage the teenagers now.”

As the co-founder and president of White Station High’s Amnesty International Chapter, Angela Yuan (12) helped raise media attention for the human rights based organization dedicated to preventing gun violence.

“Amnesty International suggests that impacted communities require increased support for gun violence intervention and prevention programs that focus on disrupting cycles of violence and providing direct services for individuals at high risk,” Yuan said. “The issue is that the gun violence prevention and victim assistance programs suffer from a lack of sufficient funding.”

Prominent Memphis rapper Young Dolph — also a husband, father and community role model — was murdered when visiting Makeda’s Cookies, a Memphis bakery. Through this tragedy, however, Memphians bonded and raised attention and awareness to the severity of gun violence.

“[Young Dolph’s passing] brought a lot of attention to Memphis as a city,” Brunt said. “It made people scared. Losing a celebrity is really scary. You’re losing someone of value so it makes you feel invaluable to lose someone like they’re nothing to gun violence.”

Most people fail to see the drastic effects of gun violence until it is too late. Conard, who lost her father to gun violence, emphasizes the importance of mental health and background checks before arming an individual with a deadly weapon.

“People with a worse mental health will resort to [gun violence],” Conard said. “If there … [was]  increased mental health [awareness] and increased gun control [laws] for people with mental health issues to have access to – I don’t know who it was who shot my dad – but I feel like that person would not have killed him and he would still be here to this day.”