Eight years ago, in the tiny East Tennessee town of White Pine, an 8-year-old girl named Makayla Dyer was shot and killed by an 11-year-old neighbor with his father's 12-gauge shotgun.
The shooter, who got the loaded shotgun out of an unlocked closet, was angry with Makayla for not letting him play with her puppy. The 11-year-old boy was arrested for first-degree murder, convicted, and sentenced to eight years in juvenile detention. The boy's father, the gun owner who left the shotgun loaded and unsecured, was never charged.
Tennessee has no law requiring gun owners to store their guns to protect against unauthorized access by a minor. Charges against an adult gun owner who allows such access are left to the discretion of local prosecutors.
The following year, state Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) sponsored "Makayla's Law," which would make it a felony for an adult gun owner to leave a loaded gun unsecured, but only if a child age 13 or younger fired the gun and injured or killed themselves or another person.
Republican legislators defeated "MaKayla's law" in 2016, 2017 and 2019.
A decade of child gun deaths
Since 2013, the Gun Violence Archive and the National Gun Violence Memorial have recorded 130 of Tennessee's more than 600 child gun deaths.
Our three-part series will highlight all 130. Each vignette tells the larger story of a child lost, a family devastated, a community in fear or mourning or both.
May 11, 2019
Chrisaiah Arrington, age 3, accidentally shot and killed himself in the bedroom of his family's apartment. The child's mother, 25, and her 43-year-old boyfriend, who kept firearms in the apartment under a pillow, were charged with negligent homicide. The mother told police her son had found a gun under a pillow a month before and she had taken it away from him.
June 10, 2019
Clark Reagan, age 8, was shot and killed by his father, a first-grade teacher, who then shot and killed himself. The deaths were ruled a murder-suicide. Clark's mother had been granted a restraining order that prohibited Clark's father from seeing him unless supervised. The restraining order was still in effect when the incident occurred. "This was mental illness," Clark's mother, Miranda, wrote in a Facebook post after the deaths. "We will never understand but please don't hate him."
April 21, 2014
Ayden Robinson, age 4, was accidentally shot and killed by his 3-year-old brother with a loaded gun found in a dresser drawer in the family's apartment. A man admitted the gun was his and he'd left it in the dresser when he went to work. He was charged with reckless homicide but was granted diversion. “They feel like if they need it quickly it’s not readily available, so they don’t spend time putting a gun lock, which is a simple thing to do," Lt. Col. Vincent Beasley of the Memphis Police Department told reporters.
Sept. 7, 2019
Ty Dodson, age 6, known at his school as "Ty the Science Guy", was shot and killed with a .357-.cal. revolver by his grandfather, who also shot and killed his wife and then himself. The child's 4-year-old sister escaped unharmed.
In 2021, gunfire became the leading cause of death for children 17 and under in Tennessee.
Child gun deaths aren't just a Tennessee problem.
In 2020, for the first time, more American children ages 17 and under were killed by guns than by car accidents or any other cause of death, according to CDC data. That was true again in 2021 and 2022, and likely will be again in 2023.
Tennessee's rate of child gun deaths is 36 percent higher than the national average.
Gov. Bill Lee has called a special session of the legislature to begin Aug. 21 in response to gun violence in Tennessee.
But so far, any gun-related legislation has been deemed outside the governor's narrowly defined scope of the session.
Lee is asking legislators to consider 18 topics to "enhance public safety" and "likewise protect Constitutional rights."
One topic includes "measures encouraging the safe storage of firearms," but it specifically precludes "creation of penalties for failing to safely store firearms."
None of the topics include measures to strengthen or reverse state laws that have loosened restrictions on making, owning, and carrying guns, laws that have put more guns within reach of more children.
Over the past decade, Tennessee lawmakers have made it easier to make, buy, carry, and steal guns in Tennessee.
During that time, the number of guns made, sold, stolen and seized in Tennessee has increased dramatically.
During that time, the number of Tennessee children ages 17 and under who have been killed by firearms each year has nearly tripled.
Since 2013, more than 600 children ages 17 and under have been shot and killed in Tennessee.
Gunfire now is the leading cause of death for children 17 and under in Tennessee and across America.
Sept. 14, 2019
Destiny Oliver, age 5, was shot and killed by her mother with a 9mm handgun inside their home. The mother told police she was watching TV when an unknown man entered the home and shot her daughter. A video later showed the woman walking out her front door with the murder weapon. She was charged with first-degree murder.
Nov. 29, 2019
An 11-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself while playing with a handgun he found under a mattress in a relative's house. The child's name was not released. No charges were filed. “The adult was not in the apartment at the time but had told the boy and his 13-year-old cousin moments earlier to stay out of her closed-door bedroom," the district attorney's office said in a statement. "The gun was in a holster and the safety was on. After considering all of the circumstances, including the age of the victim and the fact that the pistol was not in an easily accessible location, this tragic death has been ruled accidental."
Dec. 6, 2019
Demonte Johnson, age 13, was shot and killed as he walked home from a corner store in North Memphis. No one has been charged with the crime. Authorities have offered a $15,000 reward for information. “This has wrecked my life completely, my whole life and family’s life,” Jamarr Johnson, the child's uncle, told reporters. “It’s torn my heart apart. My sister lives every day, mourning, hurting about her son, she can’t function in the everyday life, because she is missing her child and wondering when they are going to capture the person who done this.”
Dec. 7, 2019
Ian Austin, age 10, a fourth grader and Cub Scout, shot and killed himself. His grandmother said Ian was bullied at school. No information was released about where he got the gun.
Dec. 8, 2019
A four-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed by his 20-year-old uncle, who was unloading his pistol. The uncle was charged with criminally negligent homicide. “A 4-year-old killed by a negligent adult. We have problems. We have major problems,” Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings told reporters. “What keeps me up is the bodies keep stacking up.”
Jan. 19, 2020
Jadon Knox, age 10, a fourth grader, was fatally shot with a .40-caliber pistol in a drive-by shooting. Jadon was standing on his porch. “They snatched his life that hadn’t even begin,” his aunt Tawanda Knox said at Jadon's funeral. A 23-year-old male was arrested and charged with reckless homicide. The suspect said he was shooting back at someone who was shooting at his house.
Jan. 20, 2020
Ashlynn Luckett, age 6, and Lequan Boyd, age 16, were shot and killed during a drive-by shooting. They were inside their home. “I have no understanding as to why,” Luciana Jones, Lequan’s mother and Ashlynn’s grandmother, told a reporter. “Every day someone is losing their life and for nothing.” No one has been arrested or charge in the murders.
Feb. 1, 2020
A 4-year-old boy accidentally shot and killed himself while he was sitting in his father's car at a gas station. The child's name was not released. No charges were filed.
In 2012, Republican legislators tried to pass a so-called "guns in trunks" bill that would have allowed people to keep firearms locked anywhere in their parked cars.
The state's largest employers spoke out against the bill. “Allowing employees to have near-immediate access to firearms at work creates an element of risk that is unacceptable, especially for large employers," FedEx said in a statement.
Semiautomatic rifles confiscated by Memphis police in 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht for The Institute for Public Service Reporting)
Republican legislative leaders, including state Sen. Debra Maggart of Knoxville tried but failed to offer a compromise that would allow businesses to opt out. The NRA objected and the bill was shelved.
Later that year, the NRA and other pro-gun groups spent more than $150,000 to defeat Maggart, a handgun-permit holder and lifetime NRA member. The two-term senator lost in the primary.
"Because of NRA bully tactics, legislators are not free to openly discuss the merits of gun-related legislation," Maggart wrote after the 2012 election.
In 2013, the state legislature voted 100-27 to allow handgun permit holders to carry and store firearms in their vehicles while driving or parked.
The new "guns in trunks" law applied to any public or private parking area, as long as the permit-holder was parked legally, and the gun or ammo was “kept from ordinary observation" and stored in a glove box or lock box secured to the vehicle.
“It’s opened Pandora’s box,” Linda McFadyen-Ketchum of the Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action told reporters at the time.
In 2014, the state legislature expanded the so-called "guns in trunks" law to allow any gun owner, not just gun permit holders, to carry and store firearms in their vehicle, even on private property that prohibits weapons.
“Since then, the theft of handguns from vehicles has skyrocketed in Memphis,” the Shelby County Crime Commission said in a statement issued earlier this summer.
Feb. 16, 2020
An 11-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed by his 13-year-old brother with their 24-year-old cousin's gun. The 13-year-old was charged with aggravated assault, and the adult cousin was charged with reckless endangerment. “How many children go home with their uncle, their whoever, got guns on the coffee table," anti-violence activist Stevie Moore told reporters. “It’s normal.”
March 13, 2020
Xavier Jackson, age 9, was accidentally shot and killed by his 13-year-old cousin with a handgun that belonged to their mother's boyfriend. Xavier's mother and her boyfriend were charged with criminally negligent homicide for leaving both children alone at home with a loaded gun.
March 26, 2020
A 3-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed by a 5-year-old boy with an adult's handgun. The names of the children were not released. No charges were filed.
April 23, 2020
Jer’monie Vinson, age 3, accidentally shot and killed himself with a family friend's stolen 9mm pistol. A 19-year-old male was arrested and charged with child endangerment and illegal possession of a firearm. He was shot and killed the following January by someone he was robbing, police said.
July 2, 2020
John Robert Moore, age 2, who loved watching Paw Patrol and Fireman Sam, accidentally shot and killed himself with a 9mm pistol he found in his father's truck while they were visiting a local fire station. No charges were filed.
July 11, 2020
A 1-year-old child was accidentally shot and killed by his 4-year-old sibling at their home with an adult's handgun. No charges were filed.
Sept. 15, 2020
Kashton Gadson, age 2, accidentally shot and killed himself with his mother's Smith and Wesson 45-.cal handgun. His 21-year-old mother, who left the loaded gun in a bedroom, was arrested and charged with negligent homicide and aggravated child neglect.
Nov. 17, 2020
Lillyhanna Rose Canter Davis, age 10, was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting as she slept on a couch in her mobile home. Three young males were arrested and charged with first-degree murder. Two were sentenced to 40 years in prison, a third to 15 years. The three males told police the shooting was an act of revenge for another shooting at the same home two weeks before when a fourth man was wounded.
Over the past decade, the number of guns reported stolen from vehicles in Tennessee has increased 10-fold.
In Nashville-Davidson County, 191 guns were stolen from cards in 2012. Last year, 1,378 guns were stolen from cars, a record number, according to Nashville police.
Memphis and Tennessee lead the nation in gun thefts vehicles, according to the FBI.
Guns stolen from vehicles have become the largest source of stolen firearms in America and in Tennessee.
A decade ago, less than a quarter of all gun thefts were from vehicles. By 2021, more than half of them were.
Memphis police report that more than 40 percent of guns used in crimes are stolen from vehicles.
"They’re not stealing guns to go hunting. They’re stealing guns to commit crime,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland told Action News 5.
In 2015, the NRA held its annual convention in Nashville during the legislative session. Nearly every Republican candidate for president spoke, including Donald Trump. More than 75,000 NRA members attended the three-day event.
Two weeks later, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a new "guns in parks" law that allows permit holders to carry loaded guns in any public park or playground, including those used by schools.
“Our enemies are armed. We must do likewise," former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) said later that year.
Nov. 22, 2020
Jordyn Washington, age 8, was shot and killed in her family's apartment by a man who was shooting an assault-style rifle into a crowd in the parking lot. One of the bullets hit Jordyn while she was in her kitchen watching her grandmother cook dinner. The 43-year-old male was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
Dec. 11, 2020
Ezekiel Jacob, age 9, and his 31-year-old mother were shot and killed in their home. The suspect, a 31-year-old male, a former employee in the family's business, shot and killed himself at his home two days later.
Jan. 4, 2020
Dameon Chalmers, age 10, was accidentally shot and killed by his 14-year-old brother who was taking a gun away from a friend. The brother was charged with reckless homicide.
Jan. 27, 2020
Justin Taylor, age 15, a football player at Austin-East Magnet High School, was accidentally shot and killed by a friend as they rode in a car. A 17-year-old boy was charged with criminally negligent homicide.
Feb. 12, 2021
Stanley Freeman, age 16, was fatally shot in his car as he was leaving Austin-East Magnet High School on his way to work. A 14-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy were convicted of first-degree murder. Police said Freeman was not the intended target of the gunfire.
Feb. 16, 2021
Janaria Muhammad, 15, a student at Austin-East Magnet High School, was shot and killed outside her home. No one has been charged.
Feb. 17, 2021
Briareus Thomas, age 2, was accidentally shot and killed while he and three other children under age 4 played with a loaded handgun in their home. The mother's 32-year-old boyfriend was arrested for criminally negligent homicide and other charges.
Feb. 23, 2021
A 7-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed by a 21-year-old family friend who was disassembling a 9mm semiautomatic pistol. The man was charged with reckless homicide.
In 2019, the state legislature passed a bill that makes it illegal to give, loan, or transfer a gun to a person known to be adjudicated as mentally ill or hospitalized in a mental institution.
But the bill created a loophole that makes it legal to give, loan, or transfer a gun to a known felon, convicted domestic abuser, or someone under an order of protection. Democratic efforts to close the loophole have been rejected, mostly recently earlier this year.
In some cases in Tennessee, someone convicted of domestic abuse or stalking can be ordered to give up their guns.
But another loophole in state law allows them to give their guns to family or friends. And state law doesn't require the recipient to be identified.
Nashville city government analyzed 27 lethal domestic violence shootings there from 2018-2020. About half of the perpetrators had been prohibited from having guns.
Crime scene tape where police investigate a drive-by shooting near Stonewall and Vollintine in Memphis in April 2021. (Karen Pulfer Focht for The Institute for Public Service Reporting)
In 2019, then-Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings asked state legislators to do something about gun thefts from cars.
Rallings said the two "guns in trunks" laws had led to a spike in the number of cars stolen and broken into, the number of guns stolen from cars, and an increase in gun-related crimes.
"I’m not against guns," Rallings told legislators. "I definitely support the Second Amendment. I’m against stolen guns. The problem is that citizens are not as responsible as we would like them to be, and they are leaving guns in cars that are unlocked and leaving guns in cars that are running."
In 2019, state Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) introduced a bill to establish criminal penalties for people who fail to secure guns in their cars. In 2014, Hardaway had been among the co-sponsors of the bill that dropped permit requirements for guns kept in vehicles.
“There was agreement that there was a need for Tennesseans to protect themselves within their cars,” Hardaway told NPR. “It didn’t cross my mind that we would have that many stupid people with weapons in their cars. These are the unintended consequences that we have an obligation to go back and fix.”
Hardaway's bill died in a subcommittee.
“I understand there’s a problem with criminals breaking into cars and stealing guns, but I don’t want to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens,” Republican state Rep. Micah Van Huss, chair of the subcommittee, told reporters.
March 9, 2021
Jamarion “Lil’ Dada’ Gillette, 15, a student at Austin-East Magnet High School, was shot and killed near his home. No one has been arrested or charged. Jarmarion was reportedly missing from a Crossville group home months before his death. No one has been arrested or charged. A year later, Jamarion's 18-year-old brother, Jaqwan, was shot and killed in a parking lot. Two males, ages 17 and 20, were arrested and charged with the killing.
April 3, 2021
A 4-year-old boy was shot and killed while he was sitting in a booster seat in a car as his father was dropping a friend off. Men in the car argued with a man outside the car, who fired his gun into the car, killing the child. A 42-year-old male suspect was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
April 12, 2021
Anthony Thompson, age 17, was fatally shot by a school resource officer during a confrontation with police at Austin-East Magnet High School. One officer was wounded by another officer during a struggle for Thompson's gun. None of the officers were charged. A 21-year-old man was sentenced to 10 months in prison for purchasing a Glock 9mm pistol for Thompson. Thompson was the fifth Austin-East student shot and killed in three months. “I am at a loss to describe my sadness as yet another horrific act of gun violence has happened in my community. Austin-East High School is my alma mater, and my heart goes out to the students, faculty and staff that were present for the senseless shooting today,” state Rep. Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) said in a statement.
April 12, 2021
Jamayla Ervoni Marlowe, age 3, was shot and killed when gunfire erupted at an outdoor vigil for a man who was shot and killed the week before. Jamayla was inside a car in a parking lot when the shooting began. Her 2-year-old sister, also in the car, was shot and wounded. A 23-year-old male was arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide and remains in jail.
May 22, 2021
Kingston Jenkins, age 1, was accidentally shot and killed by a 6-year-old sibling in a car while their mother and her boyfriend were at a grocery store. The boyfriend, whose gun was in the mother's purse in the front seat, was charged with reckless homicide.
July 4, 2021
Kelby Shorty, age 7, was shot and killed when gunfire erupted at a Fourth of July fireworks celebration outside his home. Two adults were also wounded. A 19-year-old male and a 21-year-old female were arrested and charged with first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. “My grandson was so sweet," Kelby's grandmother told reporters. "He didn’t bother nobody at all, just the sweetest. He was just a regular kid that played. Just a regular kid, that’s it.”
July 7, 2021
Madison Jones, age 11, was accidentally shot and killed at a friend's birthday party by another child who found a loaded gun in a kitchen drawer. Madison and four other children had been left unsupervised in the apartment. A 30-year-old female who lived in the apartment was charged with negligent homicide.
July 16, 2021
Deshun Mitchell, age 2, accidentally shot and killed himself with a loaded gun he found in his home. No one has been charged.
In 2016, the state legislature passed a "guns on campus" bill that allows permit holders who are faculty or full-time employees of public colleges and universities to carry loaded guns on campus.
Gov. Haslam allowed the bill to become law without his signature. “I have long stated a preference for systems and institutions to be able to make their own decisions regarding security issues on campus, and I again expressed this concern throughout the legislative process this year,” he said.
In a poll of University of Tennessee faculty, 87 percent strongly disagreed with the new law. Their objections were ignored. “I think some of these people need to take their medication," state Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said in response.
In 2017, the state legislature passed a "guns on buses" bill law that allows any gun permit holder to carry a firearm on public transportation. Gov. Haslam signed the bill without comment.
“The only protection you’re going to have (without the bill) when you get on that public transportation is a sign saying that guns aren’t allowed,” said state Sen. John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) who sponsored the bill.
July 18, 2021
A 6-year-old boy was accidentally shot and killed by his 15-year-old cousin as they played in a yard with a loaded gun. Police did not release the child's name. No charges were filed.
August 27, 2021
A 6-year-old girl was accidentally shot and killed at her home. Police did not release the child's name. No charges were filed.
Aug. 27, 2021
A'layla Bassett, age 8, was shot and killed by her father who told police he mistook her for an intruder in a bedroom closet. The 31-year-old father was arrested and charged with reckless homicide.
In 2019, the state legislature established a new “concealed only” gun permit that did not require passing an in-person gun safety class and firing range test. Instead, permit applicants are required to watch a short gun safety video online.
In 2021, the state legislature passed a law that made gun carry permits all but unnecessary for most persons 21 and older who may legally possess a handgun, carrying it openly or concealed, and in a place where the person has a right to be.
Gov. Bill Lee signed the "permitless carry" bill into law while standing inside Berretta USA's firearms factory in Gallatin. He thanked the NRA “for helping get this done.”
In 2021, the state legislature approved a law to create harsher penalties for someone caught stealing a gun. Gun thefts from vehicles continued to increase.
In 2022, thieves broke into a car owned by Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn 'CJ' Davis and stole a gun lock box stored under the seat but not secured to the car. The chief's secondary service weapon was inside. She was reprimanded.
“Placing or locking a weapon in a glove compartment or trunk should not be considered safe in itself," according to MPD policy. "However, a secured device such as a gun safe, which is fixed and attached to the vehicle, would be a safe measure.”
Oct. 1, 2021
Kailee Grace Warren, age 11, was shot and killed in her home. Her 22-year-old brother was arrested and charged with murdering her as well as her mother and half-brother. Police did not reveal a motive.
Oct. 25, 2021
A 2-year-old child accidentally shot and killed himself with his father's loaded handgun in their home. The father was charged with criminally negligent homicide.
Nov. 1, 2021
Anthony Thorpe, age 2, accidentally shot and killed himself with his 23-year-old father's loaded handun in their home. The child's mother told police the father put a loaded gun on the bed and took a shower. The father fled and was arrested two years later and charged with criminally negligent homicide.
In 2021, the Firearms Policy Coalition, a Las Vegas nonprofit dedicated to defending the Second Amendment, sued Tennessee "to restore the right of adults under 21 years of age to carry loaded, operable arms in public for self-defense in Tennessee."
The age requirement in Tennessee to purchase a handgun is 21, while the minimum age to possess a handgun is 18. In Tennessee, there is no minimum age to possess a shotgun or rifle.
Earlier this year, the state settled the lawsuit by agreeing with it. “We can no more prohibit 20-year-olds from legally carrying handguns than we can keep them from engaging in free speech or legal protest,” said Atty. Gen. Jonathan Skrmetti.
Meanwhile, a legislative proposal to lower the permitless carry age from 21 to 18 was deferred for a year.
Two young men console each other at the scene of a shooting on Stonewall and Vollintine in Memphis in April 2022. (Karen Pulfer Focht for The Institute for Public Service Reporting)
Earlier this year, the legislature was considering a pair of bills that would explicitly outlaw leaving a firearm in a motor vehicle or boat unless it is “locked within the trunk, utility or glove box, or a locked container securely affixed.”
The NRA opposed the legislation, saying it would discourage gun owners from reporting lost or stolen guns.
“This law can only be enforced if someone’s gun is stolen, the victim then reports the theft and admits the gun was unsecured — at which point the theft victim is charged with a crime,” Amy Hunter, an NRA spokeswoman, told the New York Times.
Action on the legislation was deferred until 2024.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a national nonprofit that seeks to strengthen gun laws, recommends that every state enact "a core group of five foundational laws."
States with these five laws average 8.2 gun deaths per 100,000 residents. States without these laws average 21 gun deaths per 100,000 residents, according to Everytown.
The five foundational laws:
Tennessee has done none of the five.
Information about each child's death was gathered from the Gun Violence Archive and various media reports.