Targeting guns to reduce violent crime
A new law enforcement strategy takes hold under the radar of the gun control debate: Targeting guns and their users is seen as surest way to reduce violent crime
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"For some people, when they get up in the morning, putting on the gun is like putting on their pants," Mr. Williams says. "And the question was, is there a message that we can get to these primarily young adults and kids that are carrying the weapons? In Richmond, police handed out cards that said, 'Carrying a gun will get you five.' At some point the message got through."Skip to next paragraph
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There has been much debate about Project Exile's effectiveness, however. Although killings in Richmond dropped 30 percent, critics claim the reduction was due to other factors, and that similar cities saw even greater declines without a comparable program. Williams says efforts to expand Project Exile to other jurisdictions fell flat, in large part because federal judges believed it was the responsibility of state courts to handle gun crimes.
Other innovative efforts against illegal guns "came to a screeching halt in 2000 with the Bush administration and a new Congress," says James Fox, a law and criminal justice professor at Northeastern University. Congress, for instance, passed laws that restricted local law enforcement's access to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) gun trace data; the NRA continued to oppose any efforts to limit gun trafficking or sales.
Many in city government and law enforcement see the gun control debate as a large obstacle to more effective gun prosecutions.
Although those involved in the growing effort against illegal guns are quick to say that their focus is not about gun ownership rights, but about criminal behavior, they also acknowledge that it has become difficult in the United States to talk about any sort of gun regulation without delving into the emotional, larger debate. And one component of police and city efforts to target illegal firearms is, in fact, stricter legislation – both state and federal.
In Maryland, for instance, Baltimore city representatives have pushed the state legislature to pass tougher gun penalties. In Massachusetts, proponents have asked for tougher sentencing laws and the ability to hold gun offenders without bail. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has lobbied for changes to federal law, asking the Obama administration to allow the ATF to release to local officials more gun trace data. It has also supported legislation to block people on terrorism watch lists from purchasing guns and has pushed for an end to so-called gun-show loopholes, in which unlicensed firearms sellers can sidestep background-check requirements.
All of which sound warning bells to gun rights groups such as the NRA.
"The NRA has been on record for decades talking about strict and unequivocal prosecution of gun crimes," says Andrew Arulanandam, spokesman for the NRA. "The problem with groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns is that they are actually a group that proposes gun control legislation, which will only affect law-abiding citizens. If you would just do some rudimentary research on existing gun laws and penalties that apply to them, you would find that existing laws are adequate."