Gun violence prevention advocates say the true solution to reducing firearms violence in the United States is addressing it as a public health matter, not simply a crime issue.
President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday a new executive order to reduce gun violence in the United States, which data shows disproportionately impacts Black communities.
The order is the latest White House effort to mitigate the nation’s gun problem, which has reached fever-pitch level. In 2023, so far, there have been more than 100 mass shootings in America, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Biden’s executive actions include measures to increase the number of background checks, spread awareness and improve the use of red flag laws and address the loss and theft of firearms during shipping.
The executive order also seeks to hold gun manufacturers and sellers more accountable for their part in guns getting into the hands of bad actors — including the marketing of firearms to minors.
“I’m here today to act,” Biden said during remarks in Monterey Park, California, where 11 people were killed and nine others injured in January in a mass shooting at a ballroom. The president said his executive order is intended to “accelerate and intensify this work to save more lives more quickly.”
Gun violence prevention advocates applaud Biden’s latest actions to address the nation’s gun epidemic.
Gregory Jackson, executive director of Community Justice Action Fund (CJAF), an advocacy group committed to reducing gun violence in Black and brown communities, told theGrio the president’s executive order is a “comprehensive approach that holds the gun industry, the gun dealers and traffickers accountable with the same level of emphasis that we’ve seen America hold perpetrators or individuals accountable.”
Jackson, a victim of gun violence, argued that the true solution to reducing firearms violence in the United States — particularly in Black communities — is addressing it as a public health matter, not simply a crime issue. “The biggest indicator of gun violence in our community is not necessarily crime, but it’s whether or not we’ve been exposed to violence,” said Jackson. “We look at the homicides in the Black community right now, 70% of them are not connected to another felony crime.”
He continued: “It shows that there are a lot more issues related to public health, related to our wellness — and really — our exposure to violent trauma that are fueling the cycle of violence.”
Jackson also noted the proliferation of guns in Black communities, which he believes the president’s latest actions will help alleviate by directing the Secretary of Transportation and Department of Justice to work to reduce the loss or theft of firearms during shipment and to “improve reporting of such losses or thefts, including by engaging with carriers and shippers.”
Jackson said, “That’s especially important in Black and brown communities where our communities are being flooded with firearms. They’re saturated with firearms that were illegally brought into our community. Our communities are being victimized and targeted with the sales of firearms and we need to be doing more to protect vulnerable communities and make sure that we’re pouring in resources to help people better their life.”
One of the executive actions outlined in President Biden’s order includes a measure to improve federal support for gun violence survivors, victims and survivors’ families, as well as first responders and communities that gun violence has affected. This was an action that Jackson and CJAF directly requested of the White House last year after nine Black victims were fatally shot at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
Advocates called out the federal government for its lack of presence on the ground to support the predominantly Black and brown community, which was left without its only neighborhood grocery store that had become a crime scene.
“When we were in Buffalo, we saw hundreds of news cameras, community leaders and local leaders working together to try to help the community, but there was very little government presence,” recalled Jackson. “If there were any other federal emergency of that scale or impact, we would’ve seen FEMA, HUD and different agencies activate to support the community.”
He added, “We noticed that the [mass shootings] that get the real response and support are those that are covered in the media and that’s not an equitable way to address this crisis.”
In response to these concerns, Biden’s executive order will instruct federal agencies to provide support in impacted communities, including mental health care for grief and trauma and financial assistance. The president also called on his cabinet to develop a proposal for how the federal government can “better support communities after a mass shooting, and identify what additional resources or authorities the executive branch would need from Congress to implement this proposal.”
Elected officials have also applauded the president’s executive order. U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-G), who lost her son to gun violence years before she was elected to Congress, said in a statement to theGrio that she was pleased with the “expediency and commitment that President Biden is making toward keeping our communities safe.”
“Across America, too many families are forced to deal with the pain of losing a loved one,” said McBath. “Because I know the pain of losing a child to gun violence, and no parent should ever have to feel that pain.”
McBath’s bill to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves or others was included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first comprehensive gun violence prevention law passed in Congress in nearly 30 years.
However, despite the fact that the Safer Communities Act is now a law, mass shootings have continued to plague the U.S. In response, Biden has repeatedly called on Congress to go further legislatively by banning assault weapons and passing universal background checks.
“Gun violence has plagued our communities for too long and although we’ve made progress, it is not enough,” said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., president of the African American Mayors Association. “I’ve seen too many thoughts and prayers, but not enough action.”
Scott commended Biden “for continuing to stay vigilant on this issue and taking action.” He added, “As mayors across the nation, we look forward to supporting and working with President Biden to reduce gun violence across our cities however we can.”
In his recently released presidential budget for the fiscal year 2024, Biden has doubled down on his commitment to addressing the gun violence epidemic in America as a public safety issue and not just an issue of crime. The president earmarked $5 billion to invest in community intervention programs on the ground, which is seen as a major victory for gun violence prevention advocates.
“Violence intervention programs have been proven to save thousands of lives within Black and brown communities,” said Jackson. “It’s investing in community-led strategies that are run and managed and actually hire people in our community and provide them with the tools and resources they need to intervene in conflicts and to prevent this from happening in the first place.”
The Biden White House’s comprehensive approach to addressing gun violence has also manifested on the state level. In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday the first-ever statewide office dedicated to gun violence intervention.
“The communities they’ve been focused on have seen 365 days without any shootings,” noted Jackson, who was on the ground for Gov. Cooper’s signing of an executive order establishing the State Office of Violence Prevention.
“We know that when these communities are adequately staffed and then scale, they can not only prevent violence in some communities, they can completely eradicate them.”
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