Last month, a growing number of cities across the nation participated in Gun Violence Awareness Month with community activists as well as elected officials hosting rallies, town hall meetings, and a range of activities all aimed at combating gun violence. But now that the curtains have gone down on this vital concentrated effort, the question of what’s next remains?
Nationally, at least 32,000 people a year are killed by guns. As such, gun-related violence and death have become not just a public safety issue, but also a public health concern. In fact, firearms remain the only consumer product not regulated by the federal government for health and safety compliance, yet more and more Americans are dying from guns than automobile accidents year after year.
In New York City, gun violence is a major problem every day of the year and not just during the Labor Day weekend, as some would erroneously have us believe. My position is that the problem is not our parades, nor our block parties or our nightlife scene. Not even guns per se — though I wholeheartedly support sensible gun control laws as indicated by my vote in favor of New York’s Safe Act in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Unlike rural and suburban communities whose tales of gun violence follow a script of isolated outbursts of assault weapon-fueled aggression, in New York City and urban centers across the nation, the story of gun violence is one of constant and horrific systematic deconstruction of already marginalized communities.
At the heart of the gun problem in our city is the gangs that call the Big Apple their home. When you end up with startling statistics like 40 percent of all shootings in NYC are from gang violence, it is clear that we are not doing a good enough job engaging our youth. But that’s the stark reality for communities terrorized by gang and gun violence in the City that Never Sleeps.
We must do a better job of taking care of our young people in our schools by increasing access to athletics and unconventional sports like fencing and tennis, while bolstering art and theater offerings. For many years now I have sought to make every New York City public school a Beacon School with 24 hours a day, seven days a week access to educational and family support services. If we don’t take meaningful steps today, we will continue to write this longwinded tragic story of the failure of our educational system to prepare our future generation.
Hence, I continue to be a voice advocating that our children should learn in schools that are not merely teaching for a test. They deserve to be in schools where teachers are allowed to teach, engage, challenge, and nurture them in ways conducive to developing the whole child in the context of their family composition. We can address much of the problems of gang and gun violence festering in our neighborhoods by embracing a holistic mindset that informs us that well-rounded individuals make and afford themselves better choices.
Thus, I have developed a far-reaching legislative agenda sponsoring bills such as one that increases the types of firearms that are to be included in the firearm ballistic identification database, and another potential law that would require owners of firearms to obtain liability insurance. Too often we pass laws where we legislate an outcome. I am an advocate for passing laws where we hope to avoid outcomes such as the horrific one we just witnessed at the Bronx Lebanon Hospital.
So I am calling on all of us who last month wore orange colors in recognition of Gun Violence Awareness Month to work together to repair the fabric of our community. Only collectively can we cure gun violence and restore our communities to the prominent centers of learning and nurturing we know them to be.