Last week, I wrote a piece about gun violence in America and in it I predicted that our culture’s perspective on guns will ultimately change in the future. I opined that the shift will come as a result of some seemingly small tweak in policy, or as a result of some horrific event, the likes of which we have never seen. I did not suggest the change agent, or the specific outcome, only that Americans are growing tired of school and mass shootings. Profound stuff, right?
Guns rights advocates exploded! They then immediately took to social media and labeled me “irrational” and “illogical,” especially the fine members of this group that didn’t actually read my literary classic.
Reading is the most time consuming part of writing my weekly rants. I have learned more writing this piece in the last year than I did my first two years of college, through no fault of the college. And this week, I read some great stuff about gun policy. Surprisingly, the best reading of the week was brought to me by Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association.
LaPierre penned “Standing Guard: We Don’t Need More Gun Laws, Just Enforcement of Existing Ones,” and it was posted on the NRA website on July 28. This piece is refreshing in that it suggests actual ideas on what government should do to shift the momentum on gun violence. He discusses two community engagement programs that he endorses. The first one is a famous program from the late ’90s from Richmond, Virginia, named “Project Exile” and the second is a new one using the same model called “Detroit One.”
Project Exile was implemented to address a gun violence outbreak in Richmond that was largely attributed to gangs. Whatever the cause, the functional part of the program was the transfer of technical gun offenses to federal jurisdiction for prosecution which carried a minimum five-year sentence under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. This five-year minimum and agreement on jurisdiction was a key item in implementing similar programs in other cities. In Atlanta, the program was actually called “Face Five,” as in years of incarceration for gun offenses. Additionally, denials of bail, sentence enhancements, and illegal gun seizures all are part of the government side of the program model.
But of equal importance, is the partnering, marketing, and community outreach that went hand-in-hand with these types of programs. All of the programs, including the new one being started in Detroit, feature a comprehensive effort by a long list of organizations to carry the message that illegal gun possession and use is no longer tolerated in whatever town. All of this is done without passing any new law, which is the main thing the NRA really loves about it.
Every place the programs have been implemented has enjoyed varying degrees of success. Long-term sustainability is the only problem that appears to be a challenge to me, and for obvious reasons I will discuss below.
Now, it would be wrong to let anyone believe that sentence enhancements or mandatory minimums are uniformly popular. They aren’t. It would also be wrong to let anyone believe that there aren’t more extreme guns rights people than the NRA represents who fear these kinds of programs as an intrusion on their Second Amendment rights. So what. This has proven to be better than nothing, and doing nothing is getting dangerous in my neighborhood.
The only problem I have with the NRA on this one is that these things do have a cost. And while the NRA did advocate for a paltry $2.3 million appropriation from Congress back in the 90’s on the first Project Exile, every city in America doing it might amount to real money. Of course, even if the fifty largest cities in the country rolled at a similar effort, it’s still a tiny amount of money in Congressional budgeting terms. But the NRA, as one of the most powerful lobbying and campaign finance groups in the country, almost uniformly supports candidates and officeholders that don’t support new spending. They need to change that if they want to be taken seriously on this one.
That shouldn’t be a problem, should it, Mr. LaPierre?
Matt Tully wrote in a column for The Indianapolis Star a couple of weeks ago about how it seems like our public officials can’t even talk about gun violence anymore. I understand why he wrote it, because that is certainly the appearance. But any officeholder that lacks the courage to talk about it is, in my opinion, unfit to serve. Gun violence is an issue that cannot be ignored, and so the community and the electorate must prove Tully wrong. Again, taking the NRA up on its supported idea does provoke conversation and is an improvement on our current paralysis on the issue.
I recommend that the mayoral candidates in Indianapolis roll up their sleeves and give these programs a look. Don’t be afraid to talk about gun control in this context, because the NRA is with you on this one.
Oh, and to any guns rights person that wants to mix it up with me this week: do all of the required reading first.