President Obama today proposed a $500 million program meant to bolster gun control, including a set of three policy recommendations for Congress to take action on the issue.
Noting that more than 900 people nationwide have been killed from gun violence in the past month alone — a fact backed up by these numbers reported in the National Post — Obama called on Congress to implement universal background checks for all gun buyers, restore a ban on assault weapons (and to set a 10-round limit for gun magazines), and take a more active, though vaguely defined, role in gun enforcement.
If passed, the new polices would have life-saving consequences in cities, where gun violence has a disproportionate impact. In Philadelphia alone, more than 100 people were shot in the four weeks after last year’s movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., according to guncrisis.org. That’s more than the combined total of four prior mass shootings, including Aurora.
Already, the cross-city coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns has expressed support for the president’s policy recommendations. Founded by New York City’s Michael Bloomberg and Boston’s Thomas Menino, the group has advocated for, among other policies, the mandatory background check piece that made it into Obama’s proposal.
“Today, it’s clear that the President and Vice-President heard us, and I want to thank them for listening,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement. “The legislative and executive actions the President endorsed today reflect our coalition’s top priorities, and we look forward to working with Congress to pass common sense legislation that will make our communities safer.”
On Tuesday, New York became the first state to pass gun control legislation since the shooting in Sandy Hook. Many of the provisions in the New York law — including universal background checks and limiting the number of bullets allowed in a magazine — echo in the proposals Obama unveiled today. The state law also outlaws semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines and any gun with at least one military feature (like a pistol grip or bayonet mount), broadening the definition of an “assault weapon.”
But as noted by Next City columnist Harry Moroz, since gun violence is not distributed randomly across the country, to ignore the disproportionate level of shootings in certain neighborhoods obscures data important to the gun control discussion. For one, measures that focus primarily on outlawing certain types of firearms (such as redefining what constitutes a forbidden “assault weapon”) ignore other crucial factors associated with gun violence. It’s why Kevin Drum’s Mother Jones story on the role that lead exposure may play in the matter turned so many heads this month.
And this doesn’t even touch upon the complex combo of unemployment, poverty and segregation that may (or may not) explain why some cities suffer more shootings than others.
To his credit, Obama did say he would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ramp up research into the causes of gun violence, although he didn’t mention any specifics other than “the effects that violent video games have on young minds” (which sounds like a caveat to the NRA’s confusing stance on that particular issue). He also made promises to extend help to mental health professionals, although — perhaps as a rebuttal to the “it’s about mental health, not guns” argument — he added, “someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.”
The president further mentioned, again without going into specifics, that Congress should be working with cash-strapped communities to hire more police officers and improve the law enforcement process. Over the past two years, according to the Vera Institute of Justice and the National Criminal Justice Association, a federal program that helps local agencies hire and train cops has had its funding cut by 34 percent. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System has faced cuts of 75 percent, and federal juvenile delinquency prevention initiatives by more than 50 percent.