MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis City Council committee Tuesday took up a possible gun ordinance to place new restrictions on gun storage, carrying, and ownership in the city.

The committee passed that ordinance on a voice vote with no objections shortly before noon. It now goes to the full council for discussion.

The measures of that ordinance are not in compliance with state law as it currently stands, so it would serve as a “trigger law” that would be enforced if and when state law allows.

If the council were to pass this ordinance, it would not go into effect but instead would be sent to the ballot for voters to decide on in the next general election in 2024. It would not be on the ballot in this year’s election.

Council members and legal counsel said the referendum approach would demonstrate the people’s will to state legislators.

That ordinance is broken down into three parts: 

  • One part would ban anyone from carrying a handgun in the city without a valid permit. It would also prohibit firearms from being stored in a vehicle or boat unless kept in a locked container, trunk, glove box, or otherwise out of sight.
  • Another part would make it illegal to carry or sell assault rifles in the city limits, with a few exceptions.
  • It would also create red flag laws, allowing firearms to be seized from people who pose an extreme risk to themselves or others.

Tennessee’s general assembly will have a special session later this summer on a gun reform package called for by Gov. Bill Lee.

Jeff Warren, one of the sponsors of the Memphis ordinance, said it would provide state lawmakers with input from one of Tennessee’s largest cities on what kind of gun control measures are needed in an urban environment and what happens in Memphis is different than other parts of the state.

At the same time, it would protect the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

2023 Memphis murder and homicide map

“I think part of the reason we are where we are in our state is the vast majority of legislators in our state come from small towns and rural areas,” Warren said. “Here, they are weapons that are used to kill people, not necessarily tools that are used to maintain order on your property.”

Councilman JB Smiley, another sponsor of the ordinance, accused state lawmakers of ignoring the needs of Memphis and West Tennessee.

“If no one else will protect the city of Memphis, this elected body will,” he said.

Smiley said it’s often asked what the city and police are doing to try to curb violence and the ordinance was likely to lead to court action but believes the fight would be worth it to save lives.

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“When you’re living in a city where there’s a proliferation of guns in the communities, I think at this point, we have done almost everything we can do, while the folks who sit in Nashville continue to pass legislation that leads to more dead bodies in our community, leads to number of homicides significantly increasing, leads to auto thefts where people are seeking firearms,” Smiley said. “At some point in time, the city of Memphis should be voicing their opinion on the type of laws we need here.”

The state of Tennessee has loosened its gun restrictions several times in the past few years, including a permitless carry bill that was passed in 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of homicides in Memphis has risen to record levels in recent years and may be on track to set another record this year.

“We have a responsibility to each and every person who votes us into office to take action. Whether that action leads to court? I’m almost certain it will. But I would spend as much money as I can if that would keep one life safe,” Smiley said.

Memphis Police say there’s been a steady rise in firearms stolen from vehicles since 2014. More than 12,000 guns in all have been reported stolen — MPD says those guns account for 40% of the guns used in crimes and believe if people secured their guns, crime would decrease.