Congress Should Take Its Cues from Gun Control at the Local Level
Community leaders are driving change through sit-ins, demonstrations, and education that have led to legislative action at the state level.
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Because of the unforgivable paralysis in Washington to act on gun reform, state and local governing bodies are taking action where they can. And grassroots organizations that have been working close to the pain of gun violence for years are joining forces with a new and energized generation of activists who want to end this epidemic now.
“We are looking at people who are already doing the work and taking an intergenerational approach,” Amber Goodwin, founder of the Community Justice Reform Coalition (CJRC), told VICE Impact.
By connecting people across the country who are deeply invested in the cause, CJRC looks to drive change through sit-ins, demonstrations, education, and legislative action. Their speakers bureau demonstrates the ubiquitous nature of gun violence. A mother who survived Sandy Hook, a woman whose brother was shot and killed in LA, and formerly incarcerated people all contribute to the conversation.
The national dialogue needs to approach gun violence as an epidemic in America.
“We have a diversity of people who have been directly impacted in leadership,” Goodwin said.
A prime focus at the CJRC is looking to communities of color that have been at ground zero of America’s gun violence epidemic to lead all of our communities. Goodwin points to successes in Oakland, California.
“Oakland used a model of working primarily with community-based leaders and faith leaders,” said Goodwin. “The stakeholders were brought in, tax measures were passed for funding, and there was a commitment to local organizing. In the last five years in Oakland, there’s been success across the board in reduction of homicide and mass shootings.”
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When community leaders are at the forefront, a network across the country can be formed.
“Our holistic approach centers on people who are closest to the pain,” said Goodwin. “No one in our leadership program works for our organization – we just connect them to each other. They are in their communities.”
The difference with school shootings, of course, is that many of these communities don’t even realize there’s pain until it’s too late. That’s why the national dialogue needs to approach gun violence as an epidemic in America, and one that could affect anyone, regardless of socio-economic status. Goodwin points to Sarah Clements and Ronnie Mosley, two survivors from distinct backgrounds who joined together to form Generation Progress. Clements’ mother was teaching at Sandy Hook Elementary school the day of the shooting. Mosley’s friend was shot and killed on a bus in Chicago.
“Gun violence doesn’t observe color or religion or zip code or gender,” they wrote in a joint statement on their website. “As the saying goes in our movement, gun violence doesn’t discriminate. But the atmosphere that is youth activism is the brightest light shining in that darkness.”
The students from Parkland have inspired the nation with their brave and defiant words for legislators. But at the federal level, Congress appears to be attempting to shift the conversation to school safety and mental health, placing the responsibility on the shoulders of principals, teachers, and untrained door monitors instead of making it harder for people with mental health problems to get guns in the first place.
States like Oregon and New York and cities like Oakland have been working to pass legislation where the federal government has stalled: On March 5, Oregon governor Kate Brown (D) signed a bill into law that prohibits intimate partners with domestic violence convictions from buying or keeping guns.
“I’m proud to sign this bill, making Oregon the first state to take action to prevent senseless gun violence since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida,” said Brown in a statement.
In New York, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman backed a bill in the state legislature facilitating a civil process that would allow individuals to petition for an “extreme risk protection order” (ERPO). If an individual is deemed to pose a threat to him or herself or others, family members, counselors, or law enforcement can petition for an ERPO, which would bar this individual from purchasing or owning guns.
“Putting more guns in untrained hands does not seem like the answer. Arming people is not the smartest thing to do and it’s deflecting the real issue."
Rebecca Fischer, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV), said, “In the aftermath of the Parkland massacre, our lawmakers here in the New York Assembly have stepped forward once again to prevent senseless tragedies. We call on the New York State Senate to follow the Assembly’s leadership and pass this bill to save lives.”
The State Assembly passed that ERPO bill on March 6.
In Florida, a law prohibits cities and counties from enacting gun control. So even though mayors like Philip Stoddard of South Miami would like to see a higher minimum age for gun purchase, red-flag laws to allow protection orders, elimination of loopholes, and background checks for all sales and transfer of assault weapons, if he were to enact those measures in his municipality, he would risk fines and even removal from office.
Governor Rick Scott has a bill on his desk that would mark Florida’s statewide response to the shooting at Parkland. The bill would raise the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, would ban the sale or possession of bump stocks, would give law enforcement more authority to seize weapons from those seen as a threat, and would allow some school officers to be armed. He hasn’t yet commented on whether he will sign it.
"If these legislators want to keep our communities safe, they need the facts and data to show they’re making our communities safer and not just trying to get through the next election."
According to Goodwin, arming staff is not the answer.
“There is no data point you’re gonna find that shows that over-policing is making communities safer,” she said. “Putting more guns in untrained hands does not seem like the answer. Arming people is not the smartest thing to do and it’s deflecting the real issue. If these legislators want to keep our communities safe, they need the facts and data to show they’re making our communities safer and not just trying to get through the next election. I used to work for Gabby Giffords, who talked about having courage. It’s way past time.”
Individuals can mobilize to make change on the local level. Besides making sure to vote in 2018 for a representative that backs common sense gun reform, you can check out these toolkits for organizing or become a peacemaker ambassador.