“My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and their friends in Connecticut. We must come together as a nation and ask why we allow these types of tragedies to continue. We must address this issue from a public policy perspective of concern for public safety, mental health and physical well being. We can do better. We owe it to everyone who has lost their life to gun violence and to everyone whose life has ever been shaken by the loss of a loved one to do better.”
- Bill Peduto
In the wake of America’s latest mass shooting — this time at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT — much has been and will be said and written about the need to prevent gun violence in our country. In the first few days after the murders of 20 six- and seven-year old children and 6 adult staff members, there was a cry by some that we must not “politicize” the tragedy — not look for real solutions — but, if not now, when? A good place to start is always with the facts. The Washington Post has a list of “Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States.”
In the article, we learn that shooting sprees are not rare in the US — there have been 61 such incidents in the last 30 years. We learn that the majority of the worst mass murders occured in the US and that half of the most deadly US shooting sprees have happened in just the last five years. We also see that, in general, more guns means more murders and that the states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that such policies as background checks and bans on the manufacture and possession of semi-automatic rifles are popular with the public.
So what do we do?
Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a coalition of more than 700 mayors from big cities and small towns — including Pittsburgh — who want to end the some 30,000 gun-related deaths that occur each year. They have all agreed to advance the following principles to help to prevent gun violence:
• Punish – to the maximum extent of the law – criminals who possess, use, and traffic in illegal guns.
• Target and hold accountable irresponsible gun dealers who break the law by knowingly selling guns to straw purchasers.
• Oppose all federal efforts to restrict cities’ right to access, use, and share trace data that is so essential to effective enforcement, or to interfere with the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to combat illegal gun trafficking.
• Keep lethal, military-style weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines off our streets.
• Work to develop and use technologies that aid in the detection and tracing of illegal guns.
• Support all local state and federal legislation that targets illegal guns; coordinate legislative, enforcement, and litigation strategies; and share information and best practices.
• Invite other cities to join us in this new national effort.
For those looking for some good news in all this, there is some. While mass shootings have risen, overall homicide rates are down. But, the decrease is not evenly spread throughout the cities in the US. A predictor of gun violence can be found in the economic well being of a city, including the type of economic growth. From The Atlantic Cities:
On the one hand, a bunch of cities saw dramatic improvements in their homicide rates — New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Dallas, and Houston among them. On the other hand, there were cities that “are going in the wrong direction.” While Las Vegas was the only city where the homicide rate actually increased, several cities moved up in the rankings — Columbus, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Detroit.
From where I sit, the real story is not the short-term rate of growth, but the type of growth and the factors that underpin it.
Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio have benefited from relatively stable housing markets, and in Houston’s case, the energy boom. D.C. and New York have been at the leading edge of the urban shift in knowledge, profession, and creative work. Austin, San Jose, and San Francisco are among the nation’s leaders in the share of college grads and of knowledge work. These knowledge-based, high-tech economies are underpinned by clustering and concentration of the sort that has fueled greater density and infill development. Many of these places — New York, L.A., San Francisco, and San Jose — have seen massive immigration as well, which has helped to stabilize and bring back disadvantaged neighborhoods and damp down violent crime.
The cities which have crept up the homicide rankings — Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, as well Indianapolis and Columbus which have stronger economies — have seen far less re-urbanization, have had far lower rates of immigration, and in many cases continue to suffer from the classic “hole in the donut” syndrome.
Lastly, for those parents trying to help soothe their own childrens’ fears over the Sandy Hook tragedy, many are finding comfort in some wise words from Pittsburgh’s own Mister Rogers:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
We can do better. And, we need all the help and helpers we can get.