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Last year, when Artemis Rayford was 12, he wrote a letter to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee concerned about a new state law that allows most adults to carry a gun legally without a permit.
“I am a sixth-grader at Sherwood Middle School, and it is my opinion that this new law will be bad, and people will be murdered,” Artemis wrote the governor, according to Memphis station WREG.
Tragically, Artemis ended up becoming a victim of gun violence he spoke against as he was hit by a stray bullet on Christmas morning.
According to grandmother Joyce Newson, her grandson, who she called “Shun,” was inside his home in the Orange Mound neighborhood and playing with his Christmas presents, when a hail of bullets shattered the home. Rayford was reportedly hit by one of them and died in his mother’s arms.
“When he got shot, the only thing he could do was run to his mama,” Newson told WREG. “It took her two days to wash the blood off her hands.”
On January 8, Rayford was laid to rest. Just days before his funeral, his family received the letter from his teacher, which was written by Artemis and addressed to Governor Lee.
“I read this letter or two or three times,” Newson said.
The letter informs Lee that Artemis is in the Memphis Police Department’s Gang Resistance Education and Training program, which is dedicated to discouraging gang activity and violence among children.
“He wrote this letter not even knowing that he was going to be killed by the gun,” Newson said.
Artemis’ letter spoke to what he felt was the danger of the lenient gun law, which became effective last July. It says people in Tennessee over 21 and military members over the age of 18 are permitted to carry a weapon, concealed or open, without safety training or a permit. Both the Memphis Police and Shelby County Sheriff’s Office have condemned the law.
“A person just walking down the street is not a call we can answer, because we can’t even question that person about the weapon, according to this new law,” Sheriff Floyd Bonner said last year when the law went into effect, according to WREG.
No arrests have yet been made in Artemis’ death.
In 2021, Memphis reached a record 346 homicides, 31 of which children were victims.
Newson says she hopes the letter her grandson wrote will inspire change surrounding gun legislation, if not in Tennessee, elsewhere in America.
“A lot of people thinking that, ‘I got a gun in my house. I’m safe.’ But that’s not the case. Because most of the time with them, who’s the one getting hurt? It’s the innocent one,” Newson said. “They think these guns are going to save them but it’s really not. It’s got to be another solution besides using guns.”
If you have any tips in regards to Artemis’ death, or anyone who has been the victim of gun violence, call Crime Stoppers at (901) 528-CASH.
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