On Thursday afternoon, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield was seated among hundreds of his fellow mayors at the Capitol Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., attending the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Vice President Joe Biden took the stage. One day after he and President Barack Obama introduced the most sweeping proposal to change the nation's gun laws in two decades, Biden's speech naturally focused on one topic—guns.
Biden told the mayors they were "influential" and situated on "the front lines" of the gun debate in America. He implored them to join the White House's new set of initiatives, brought forward roughly a month after the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"We're going to take this fight to the halls of Congress," Biden said. "We're going to take it to the American people, making our case, and let the voices of the people be heard."
Littlefield said following the speech he was ready to act—and that he had been ready for quite some time. Months ago, the mayor joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an 800-strong group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; and last year, he hosted a Summit on Gun Violence, featuring the CEO of the Brady Campaign.
Still, in 2012, Chattanooga recorded an above-average number of homicides, with 71 percent of those killed dying from gunshot wounds, according to a Chattanooga Times Free Press report. Since the start of 2013, the paper has reported several more shootings, including one homicide.
"We've had enough tragedies in this country to where we need to be more rational and reasonable about how guns are handled and who owns them," Littlefield said in a phone interview with Nooga.com. "… There needs to be an effective and meaningful national conversation about how we should address gun violence. Just using a knee-jerk reaction and citing the Second Amendment is not enough."
Littlefield mentioned the 2011 shooting death of Chattanooga Police Sgt. Tim Chapin, in which Jesse Mathews, a fugitive wanted for robbery charges in Colorado, was found to have been in possession of an M-4 assault rifle he had purchased days earlier at a Chattanooga gun show—without any form of background check.
"The death of Sgt. Chapin is a sensitive fact, but it's a historical fact," Littlefield said. "And when people ask if I can give them an example of what these kinds of [gun] sales or transactions can result in—I don't think the Chapin family likes his name being thrown around—but we cannot ignore it. It's there. I don't think that it should be used as a wedge issue or a political issue, but it is a fact."
Littlefield wasn't the only official to cite Chapin's killing in the wake of Obama's proposal. Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester issued a statement Wednesday applauding the president's plan, suggesting that supporting Second Amendment rights go "hand in hand" with keeping "illegal guns" away from criminals, people with mental illnesses and those with a history of violence.
"Tennessee families know the consequences of doing nothing all too well," Forrester said. "In 2011, a policeman on duty in Chattanooga was shot and killed with an assault rifle that was purchased by an escaped felon a few days earlier at a gun show in Tennessee. The president has put a plan on the table that closes the background checks loophole."
The implementation of a criminal background check system is one of the provisions suggested by Obama that would require congressional approval, along with the reinstating of an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and the restoring of a 10-round ammunition limit on gun magazines.
On Wednesday, Tennessee members of Congress expressed hesitation to any proposal that would "infringe" on citizens' Second Amendment right to bear arms. The line was reiterated by Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney, who suggested Thursday that the plan was an attempt by the president to "undermine the Constitution."
"Instead of working on a real solution that will protect our schools from further tragedy, the president would rather limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans," Devaney said in an emailed statement. "We need to look at the solutions that tackle the reasons behind these mass shootings. It's not the weapon that committed the crime. It is the person behind the weapon."
Proposals related to gun laws are already drawing attention in the 108th General Assembly, which convened earlier this month. Already, state Rep. Eric Watson has said he'll introduce a bill to permit teachers to carry guns in schools, and state Rep. Joe Carr has said he'll introduce a measure to make it a Class A misdemeanor for federal agents to enforce any ban on firearms or ammunition in Tennessee.
On Thursday, Gov. Bill Haslam appeared to walk a tight line as he answered questions from reporters on gun proposals at a school in Memphis. The governor did express concerns that Obama's plan may contain "more unilateral action than congressional approval," according to a Tennessean report.
"I am an executive. I am always thinking the executive branch should have a lot of power," Haslam was quoted saying. "[But] I do think on issues having the legislative branch fully engaged in part of that discussion is critical."
As reactions from lawmakers and public officials across the state varied, both heads of law enforcement agencies in the Chattanooga area remained quiet. Both Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd declined requests from Nooga.com to comment on the president's gun proposals or to offer views on what suggestions could be viable steps to curbing gun violence.
Since Obama's announcement, Dodd has offered only one brief statement, commenting to the paper on the fact that hardly any shootings reported in Chattanooga are committed with assault rifles similar to those singled out in the proposal.
"We could remember one murder and one drive-by vandalism to a home in the past three to four years," Dodd was quoted saying. "Ninety to 95 percent of our shootings are with handguns and probably average three to four shots being fired."