The 20-year-old son of Janet Rice in Hartford, Ct., was shot and killed in a fight in 2012.
“Since losing my son, I’ve lost a nephew on the streets of Hartford. I lost my godson just last year,” she says. “The person who shot him was his friend – someone who sat at his mom’s kitchen table and shared dinner.”
This summer, for the first time in three decades, Congress passed legislation aimed at reducing gun violence, after a spate of mass shootings shook the nation.
The Safer Communities Act will provide funding for states to implement red flag laws, enhance screening processes for gun purchasers under the age of 21, and prevent those convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun for a period of time, along with channeling billions of dollars into mental health and school safety, reports the Christian Science Monitor.
Rice applauds the measure and hopes it will prevent more mass shootings, but she she doesn’t believe it will have much impact on communities like hers and the gun violence that happens there “every single day.” Activists and experts cite a variety of measures they think would help address the problem, from community policing to gun licensing laws. First, many say, there needs to be a broader acknowledgement of the prevalence of this type of gun violence – and the lower-income, majority Black neighborhoods that are most affected by it.
Mass shootings – which accounted for 38 of the record 45,222 U.S. gun deaths recorded by the FBI in 2020 – receive an outsize proportion of public attention due to their shocking nature.
To make communities like Hartford safer requires sustained attention to the other kind of violent crime that too often is ignored. “I think America is taking mass shootings seriously, but I don’t think they’re taking community-level gun violence seriously,” says Rice. “And that needs to change.”
Murders in the U.S. are down a few percentage points this year, but many cities, including Hartford, have reported similar rates of gun crimes this summer compared with last. Experts point to many reasons for the relative lack of attention given to local gun violence, from the numbing effect of a steady drumbeat of incidents, to the fact that they tend to occur in low-income neighborhoods and among marginalized groups.
An analysis of 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that Black men between the ages of 15 and 34 were over 20 times more likely to be victims of gun homicide than their white counterparts. Although this demographic represents two percent of the U.S. population, it accounts for almost 40 percent. of all gun fatalities in 2020, according to a study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
“There are ‘mass shootings’ happening in our neighborhoods all of the time,” says Jacquelyn Santiago Nazario of Compass Youth Collaborative, a nonprofit in Hartford aimed at helping at-risk youth. “Thankfully people aren’t always hurt, but you have to understand that even hearing those gunshots creates a ripple effect of fear and trauma within the community that is not easily remedied.”
Odis Johnson, a social policy professor at Johns Hopkins University and part of their Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, advocates for harsher penalties for illegal gun distributors and biometric finger locks on guns so they can only be used by their owner. Gun safety experts speak to the value of community policing, along with violence prevention programs that can stop the shooting before it begins. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act allocated $250 million for community-based violence prevention initiatives like Compass. Still, that pales compared to the $5 billion President Biden would have allocated for it in his failed Build Back Better agenda.