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Family of slain Memphis boy who opposed permitless-carry gun law pushes changes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Family members of a 12-year-old Memphis boy who was fatally shot at home after he wrote a letter to Gov. Bill Lee opposing Tennessee’s permitless-carry gun law are leading a push for changes to state law to prevent further violence.

Artemis Rayford even said “people will be murdered” because of the new law in his letter to the Republican governor, which he wrote through the Gang Resistance Education And Training program with the Memphis Police Department and his school.

Artemis was fatally struck by a bullet that entered his home early on Christmas. He had been playing a video game.

Police are still investigating who shot the boy, according to the family.

His aunt, Angie Brooks, and grandmother, Joyce Newson, testified before House panels on behalf of bills that would set up a process to revoke driver’s licenses of people convicted in drive-by shootings for five years and make coercing someone into joining a criminal gang against their will a felony.

His aunt also voiced her opposition to the 2021 permitless-carry law that had worried Artemis. It’s unclear if the letter made its way to the governor at some point. Newson also said the family didn’t know he had written the letter until after he was killed.

“I am a 6th grader at Sherwood Middle School and it is my opinion that this new law will be bad and people will be murdered,” Artemis wrote to the governor.

It’s highly unlikely the Republican-supermajority Legislature would roll back any provisions of the permitless-carry law, which lets most adults 21 and older carry handguns without first getting a permit that requires clearing a state-level background check and completing training. Republicans have filed bills to loosen existing gun restrictions further.

Some gun-rights advocates want the permitless-carry law to extend down to people who are at least 18 years old. While discussing another Democratic bill about gun violence reporting Wednesday, some House Republicans said the focus should be on community violence generally and not gun violence specifically, with at least one lawmaker suggesting that churches should be encouraged to address the issue and not the government.

On Wednesday, Brooks questioned the unraveling of Tennessee’s handgun carry permit requirements.

“Everything you do now, you basically have to have a license,” she said. “We are losing our young ones in the streets and also on the streets. These babies cannot watch TV or play in their homes safely where they belong.”

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat sponsoring the bills Artemis’ family testified for, said “we’ve got to find a way to still respect what the governor and the Legislature have done in terms of permitless carry,” while making other changes. He said there should be protections for law enforcement officers to be able to evaluate people carrying weapons publicly if they may not be allowed to have them, and education and training for people carrying guns.

Hardaway also wants to create a new offense of “community terrorism,” which include shootings into a group of two or more people from a car into a home or another car.

Before Artemis was shot, his aunt said he just left her house, and he had been dancing and singing, being “the life of the party.” He had been looking forward to a pool party when he would turn 13 in May.

“I just wouldn’t believe in a million years that would be the last time that we saw Artemis,” Brooks said.