On Saturday, April 7th, local politicians, policy advocates and community members gathered at MS 50 (183 South 3rd Street) for a Townhall meeting on gun violence. The event, hosted by Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia M. Velázquez, took place on National Day of Action, following the March for Our Lives Protests, and included a panel of community advocates from New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Los Sures. The politicians and advocates all see gun violence in the United States (and right here in New York City) as a public health issue, and have framed their local advocacy and and legislative agendas to tackle the issue through that lens.
Some public health statistics help clarify the gravity of the gun-related public health crisis in America: Gun-related death is the third leading cause of death for American children. Forty percent of those deaths are suicides, and 3 million American children witness shootings every year. Those who do are more likely to suffer from addiction and depression.
While this is a grim reality, our local politicians and community advocates are working hard — and making strides — toward a safer, less violent, city. Students and young people are at the forefront of that work. For example, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence is a youth-led movement, which encourages kids to ask questions like, “Do guns really protect me?” or “Where do the guns in my community come from?” NYAGV’s Shaina Harris explains, “Guns give people artificial power.” One solution is to “empower people in their own lives without guns.” Ultimately, “we have to love each other and know our neighbors.”
The community group Los Sures Safe Horrizons takes a similar approach. Operating in South Williamsburg, advocates are keenly aware of the toll gun violence has taken on this community. In the last year alone, four young men were shot around the corner from MS 50, and gun violence is “an everyday trauma we try to overcome.” Juan Ramos, executive director of Los Sures also touched on the notion of knowing one’s neighbors and building a strong sense of community. He explained, “Feeling unsafe in communities means a lack of resources,” and “people may not understand what safety is, and what safety is not,” which helps perpetuate gun violence in under-served communities.
One form of community engagement happening right now in New York is a program called ShotSpotter, where the NYPD will identify where a shooting has taken place, and meet with grassroots organizations. The grassroots organizations will then go in with education and community building around gun violence prevention in that community.
Gun violence prevention on a policy level, this means a variety of different measures. One is research. In the 2018 spending bill, Congress finally lifted the ban on gun violence research. Assembly member Jo Anne Simon is advocating for a Firearm Research Institute in the State of New York, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has written a bill designating $10 Million per year for the research, and Congresswoman Velazquez has authored the Protecting Americans from Gun Violence Act to fund research, boost funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and provide additional support to the Office of Victim Assistance at the FBI. Pediatric Resident Physician Jennifer Grad explains that research on gun violence can save children and combat the public health crisis posed by firearms, much in the same way that research on polio and other diseases has eradicated those public health epidemics.
Another is Background Checks. Both Congresswomen support closing the “Brady Loophole” which stipulates that people who buy guns at gun shows are not subject to background checks, and Congresswoman Maloney wrote the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act to bring this about.
A third is making use of technological resources. Congresswoman Velazquez wrote the Stopping the Iron Pipelline Act, which requires the National Institute of Standards and Technology to require that all guns sold in the United States have passive identification technology. Similarly, Congresswoman Maloney’s Handgun Trigger Safety Act promotes the development of “smart gun” technology, which only allows authorized users to fire the gun. The bill would mandate that all guns manufactured in the United States use this technology, and that all other guns be retrofitted accordingly within 10 years.