Roughly one year ago the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School focused the nation’s attention on the scourge of gun violence. The nation mourned with Connecticut, disbelieving the loss of 26 innocent young lives needlessly taken. In its wake, the fight for legislation to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again was reinvigorated, and real progress was made. States like New York and Colorado immediately moved forward with solutions that made a tangible difference. In Rhode Island, only small steps were taken.
Inexplicably, the effort to adopt common sense gun measures has come to a halt here in Rhode Island.
When I represented the City of Providence at the State House during the 2013 session, I saw powerful special interests stand in the way of good legislation. I supported Mayor Taveras as he brought together mayors across Rhode Island to find common ground on gun legislation and worked with legislative leaders to move a package of proposals to the floor. As we fought to get law enforcement and other anti-violence coalitions into the debate, our voices were overwhelmed by the turnout of the NRA. Ultimately, the most important components of this comprehensive package were never put up for a vote, and little progress has been made since.
Rhode Island can no longer wait in vain for the general assembly to take the lead on a problem this acute. It’s time to recommit to the implementation of common sense gun measures here in Providence and in cities and towns throughout the state. Providence can and should take the lead in ending gun violence, and it can set a precedent for mayors across Rhode Island to follow.
Providence already has private organizations making great strides toward safer communities. One such group, the Institute for the Study of Non-Violence, has shown a great deal of success with its street worker program, which places individuals in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. The city must strengthen its partnership with these organizations and take full advantage of the financial and human resources they have to offer. In this era of fragile municipal budgets, it is critical that the city take a more aggressive approach towards seeking alternative revenue sources, such as private foundations and federal grants, to ensure adequate funding for these crucial initiatives.
Gun violence affects all of us. Though it may be a national problem, there are local solutions. It is imperative that urban mayors work together on this issue. By combining strengths and pooling critical resources, local leaders will be able to establish aggressive community policing models that build trust with the community. Supplementing this with anti-illegal gun marketing campaigns will drive home this message effectively. There are a number of powerful enforcement measures already in place in our cities, it is critical that mayors open the lines of communication to share these initiatives with one another. Together, local leaders throughout the state can work towards banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, implementing a background check system that appropriately incorporates mental health problems and histories of domestic violence into the analysis, and promulgating similar effective tactics.
A recent three-part series in the Providence Journal reminds us all of the costs of gun violence. As a result of increased gang activity in urban communities, there has been an unacceptable rise in crime, leaving in its wake countless ruined lives.
Just last week, Providence was awarded $150,000 from the federal government to help reduce gang violence. This money will go a long way toward making our streets safe, but we must do more. The money from this grant can be used most effectively if it is coupled with policies to support it. It is vital that we work for the swift and successful implementation of these acutely needed reforms.
In response to Sandy Hook, President Obama asked the essential question: “Can we honestly say that we are doing enough to keep our children—all of them—safe from harm?” Unfortunately, the answer in Rhode Island is still “no.”
Leadership on this issue is long overdue. Through the urgently needed cooperation of our mayors, we can change this “no” into a resounding “yes” and ensure the safety of our young people, both now and for generations to come.