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Gregory Jackson knows gun violence intimately.
He said about nine years ago, while walking along N Street in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C., he was shot in the right leg by a man who mistook Jackson for someone else.
The experience changed Jackson forever. At the time, he was the southern regional director of Organizing for Action, a group that championed President Barack Obama’s agenda. Jackson recalled how police questioned him in his hospital bed. They treated him, a black man, not as a victim but rather as an aggressor – as a security risk to be watched.
It took him six months to learn to walk again.
Jackson is now executive director of the nonprofit Community Justice Action Fund, and his passion for gun violence prevention is even more evident today.
Gun control legislation remains minimal at the federal level, though, crucially, last month President Joe Biden signed into law the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major federal gun safety legislation. fire adopted in nearly 30 years. Meanwhile, some Democratic-controlled state legislatures are crafting laws to deal with the recent spike in gun violence. However, some observers worry about the potential unintended consequences of these laws, which have sometimes contributed to mass incarcerations in the past and disproportionately harmed black Americans.
“There’s definitely a tension between our skewed criminal justice system and some of the sentencing-oriented policies that we’ve seen implemented over the years,” Jackson told CNN. “That’s why we’re pushing for a public health response to gun violence, which means it should be people-centered and resource-driven, not necessarily carceral strategies or restrictive policies.”
In short, he wants the police to play a lesser role in gun control.
Jackson added that he had little interest in expressing his resentment towards the man who shot him.
“What I resent the most is how did this individual gain access to the gun? Why is it so easy for people in my community to get a gun? It’s easier to get a gun in my neighborhood than it is to get a library book or a healthy meal,” Jackson said.
There is no easy way to reduce gun violence. But experts say “cleaning up policing” and reducing our reliance on the criminal justice system are important pieces of the puzzle.
The problem with gun control isn’t necessarily the law, according to Carol Anderson, a professor of African-American studies at Emory University. Sometimes the problem is the enforcement of the law.
“Let’s go back to the Bruen decision in New York, that horrible decision of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Anderson said, referring to the High Court ruling in June that struck down a century-old firearms law in New York and which observers suspect is unleashing a wave of lawsuits aimed at easing restrictions at the state and federal levels. “The Public Defenders’ amicus curiae brief stated, The NYPD used this law to prosecute black people. Look what it did.”
Anderson, the author of “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” said the problem was basically policing.
“That’s the element that I think isn’t understood well enough,” she said. “We have to clean up the police. Until we take anti-Blackness seriously, we will continue to dance around the issue.
Following the Bruen ruling, Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation limiting the concealed carry of firearms in places such as schools. Still, some observers have expressed concern that the new law, while certainly well-intentioned, could harbor age-old prejudices.
“Instead of prosecuting manufacturers, all these other kinds of high profile issues, continuing to focus on individual possession cases where the police are in charge of this enforcement just ensures that we’re going to continue to see the over-criminalization of blacks and brown New Yorkers,” civil rights attorney MK Kaishian recently told City & State.
Sharone Mitchell Jr., the lead public defender in Cook County, Illinois, a state with relatively rigid gun control laws, echoed some of Kaishian’s sentiments.
“What we’re seeing is an influx of possession cases, and those arrests are happening in very specific neighborhoods, primarily through car stops and car search seizures,” Mitchell told CNN, noting that “the reality of the situation is how we pursue gun laws that have not affected the supply or demand for guns.
He also noted that his perspective put him in an awkward position, because he was “not a gunman” and did not own a weapon.
Like Anderson and Kaishian, Mitchell pointed to the challenge policing can pose.
“What we see is the police saying, Look, if we can’t stop gun violence, then we just have to arrest as many people as possible and hope it has some effect.“, said Mitchell. “Plus, there are public relations benefits to being able to say, We took 14,000 guns off the streets, without giving the denominator. There are hundreds of thousands of guns on the street.
How do you fight gun violence without further criminalizing black Americans, especially when gun manufacturers enjoy such broad immunity from regulation?
For starters, we must recognize that while well-intentioned gun control laws can disproportionately harm Black communities, there is a flip side.
“It’s important to keep in mind anytime you think about new criminal laws what the potential impact on different communities might be,” said Eric Ruben, assistant professor at SMU Dedman School of Law and a Brennan scholar. Center for Justice. CNN. “But there is also a disparate impact on the black and brown communities of not regulate firearms. Gun violence, which gun laws seek to address, disparately threatens black and brown communities. »
Second Amendment advocates such as Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, who is one of two black Republican men serving in the House of Representatives and who fervently opposes the bipartisan federal bill, lament the impact of the laws. Americans on gun control.
“Gun laws haven’t made black communities safer,” Donalds said, recounting how he was held at gunpoint as a 16-year-old in Brooklyn. “There was nobody around. If there were people in the vicinity who were armed, who saw something bad happening, would a criminal element think twice before using if free firearms to incite violence or commit a crime?”
There is plenty of evidence to show that increasing gun ownership does not actually stop crime and that failing to regulate has a cost.
Scotching false narratives matters too. For example, Republican lawmakers often attempt to portray Democratic-controlled states as hellish landscapes afflicted only by gun violence, despite the fact that, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, red states have some of the highest gun death rates in the world. country. The diversion from GOP lawmakers also ignores the ease with which people can export guns from states with looser gun control laws — red states, typically — to neighboring states with softer gun control laws. strict.
“There are so many mythos that need to happen,” Anderson said. “We must dismantle anti-Blackness as the operating code of our public policy.”
Moreover, we can learn something from previous attempts to curb gun violence, particularly the reliance on the involvement of the criminal justice system.
“The 1994 Crime Bill taught an unfortunate lesson that there had been this intersection of gun regulation with unnecessarily long prison sentences which contributed to mass incarceration” , Ruben told CNN. “One of the things that I think you see now is that there are many solutions advocated that try to minimize the intersection between regulation and harsh criminal penalties. There is even an attempt to try to find solutions that do not involve the criminal justice system at all.
He said extreme risk protection orders, aka red flag laws, which are meant to be civil, are one way to achieve that goal. A concerned family member or law enforcement may request that a firearm be removed from someone who may pose a risk to themselves or others. If successful, the order is totally civil.
Community violence intervention programs provide another opportunity to address gun violence while minimizing interactions between high-risk communities and the criminal justice system. These programs, Ruben said, could have a big impact and are funded by the new federal bill.
It is this tactical pivot from previous approaches to gun violence prevention that the bipartisan Safer Communities Act in some ways represents that gives Jackson some hope.
“I’m encouraged because this bill really invests in programs to save lives,” Jackson told CNN, referring to how the bill allocates $750 million to help states implement and running crisis intervention programs and also shutting down the so-called boyfriend getaway, among other things that support black communities, in particular.
“We do a lot of work to ensure that legislation and policies are focused on healing communities, preventing violence and supporting those on both sides of the gun,” he added, “ instead of just trying to incarcerate our way.” out of the problem.