Family of 12-year-old killed on Christmas Day by stray bullet pushes changes to gun laws

Gun Violence Memphis
Posted at 8:05 PM, Feb 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 03:03:25-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Last year, a 12-year-old Memphis boy wrote a letter to Gov. Bill Lee, concerned about gun laws in Tennessee.

Months later, on Christmas morning, he was tragically killed by a stray bullet while playing with his toys.

The family of Artemis Rayford traveled to Nashville on Wednesday to support the creation of new laws to protect others from gun violence.

It was an emotional day for his grandmother, aunt and others.

"When Artemis got shot, he got up from the game he was playing and ran to his mom, but there was nothing his mom could do," said Joyce Newson, Artemis' grandmother.

She and other family members were supporting two new bills.

One creates an offense of "community terrorism" — shooting a gun into a group of people either from a vehicle or into a home or another vehicle. It makes it a class C felony.

The second bill creates penalties for coercing someone to join a gang. The younger the person is, the harsher the penalty.

Both bills are sponsored by Memphis Rep. G.A. Hardaway.

"This bill makes it a special crime to recruit into these criminal gangs. The recruitment process will be illegal," said Rep. Hardaway. "The recruitment penalties will be dependent upon and proportionate to the age of the child. The younger the child, the more severe the penalties will be."

After testifying on behalf of the bills, Newson said losing Artemis, who they call by his nickname, Shun, has been difficult.

"Shun, we love shun," said Newson. "That was a terrible thing that happened to him. My family is really torn up. It's going to take a while for things to get back to normal. But to be able to come and say these things is helping me get at ease because I know someone is trying to help with the situation."

After his death, Artemis's family found a letter he had written to Gov. Lee in opposition to open carry laws.

Proof, his family said, that he too would support these bills against gang violence.

"For him to die, to be killed by a gun and for us to find out after he had been shot. That's something that's just amazing to me because Shun wrote it," said Newson.

So far, no one has been arrested for Artemis's death.