Juvenile Court Judge Donna Scott Davenport fears for the safety of Rutherford County children.
Five boys, ages 14 to 16, carried loaded handguns when arrested last weekend ranging from violent crimes to speeding.
• Two 16-year-old boys were charged with kidnapping a man and robbing him near downtown Murfreesboro.
• A 14-year-old and a 16-year-old boy were charged with unlawful possession of a handgun after a loaded .357 Magnum was found near them. Witnesses identified their car as the one where an occupant fired outside a party with 200 people nearby.
• A 15-year-old driver accused of speeding and evading arrest was apprehended with a .45-caliber handgun in his pocket. A Tec 9 pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition were found in his car along with crack cocaine and marijuana. He is believed to be a gang member.
Davenport ordered all five boys to remain in detention for their safety and the safety of the community.
The judge is hearing more cases of children carrying loaded firearms. Previously, children might have a loaded gun in a car but not on their person. It’s more serious when it’s loaded in their pocket.
“I fear for the safety of our children,” Davenport said. “I’m afraid more children will be shot from their own weapons.”
And she fears for the safety of law enforcement officers who have no choice but to draw their service firearms when facing a child with a firearm.
“The concern for my community is my priority,” Davenport said. “Children having an easy access to firearms is extremely disturbing.”
Who carries guns?
When asked about the 15-year-old driver with a handgun, sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dan Goodwin asked if illegal drugs were involved. Deputy Barry Poole reported he found crack cocaine and marijuana in the boy’s car.
Goodwin, who was assigned to the narcotics division for seven years, said in his experience, narcotics dealers often swap drugs for weapons or sex in lieu of cash.
“They arm themselves so they can protect themselves from thieves and people vying with them for narcotics’ territory,” Goodwin said.
Some of the firearms come from drug addicts stealing handguns to swap for drugs.
Murfreesboro Police Detective Chris Ashley, who works in the police precinct on Vaughn Street, said the majority of the firearms are stolen through home burglaries and thefts.
“If a juvenile has the money, they can obtain guns on the street,” Ashley said. “It’s (firearms) a hot ticket item sold from burglaries and thefts. That’s why it’s so important for people who own firearms to keep them locked and secured.”
Ashley always takes both his service firearm and personal weapons out of his vehicle to keep the weapons from being stolen.
Police spokesman Kyle Evans and Ashley have noticed an increase in children using guns to commit crimes.
Like Goodwin, Ashley said drug dealers as a rule arm themselves with firearms.
“Drug dealing is a violent business,” Ashley said. “It’s not unusual to find firearms with drugs.”
Also, Ashley believes television and movies and games depicting firearms impacts juveniles and crime on the streets.
Evans said juveniles who belong to a gang “due to the nature of a gang will arm themselves with a weapon. Most of the time when you see gang activity, you see two common things, drugs and weapons.
Police officers consider children with weapons as a serious crime.
“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Evans said. “If a juvenile has a handgun, they go to detention and face the consequences of the juvenile justice system.”
La Vergne Police Chief Ted Boyd believes juveniles get weapons off the street or in burglaries.
“I don’t think people in the community want guns in teens’ hands,” Boyd said.
Evans and Boyd both recommended parents educate their children about the danger of weapons, keep firearms locked at home and get involved with their activities.
“I want to emphasize parents do all they can do and kids still make a choice,” Boyd said.
Ashley said parents should be aware of their children’s friends and inform their children not to tell their friends about firearms in the home.
To prevent gun use among children, Evans said DARE officers start in kindergarten teaching children not to touch guns and tell an adult. City Channel 3 broadcasts public service announcements about guns.
“If a child knows somebody has a gun, tell a responsible adult,” Evans said. “The worst thing you can do is not tell anybody. You’re not ratting out anyone or being a tattletale. You may possibly save someone’s life.”
Information about guns may be called in to Crime Stoppers at 893-STOP between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Parents should discuss firearms with their children and talk about ways to deal with stress and aggression rather than resorting to violence.
“After Columbine, we have to take this very seriously,” Evans said.
Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.