On Wednesday morning, on South Arlington Street, near Davies Avenue, a man did not unleash gunfire in a movie theater, or a school, or a shopping mall. A 4-year-old boy, Jamarcus Allen, apparently handled a pistol while his father drove the car. The gun fired, killing the boy.
Read the reports of Phil Trexler, a Beacon Journal staff writer, about the mother having earlier urged her husband to get rid of the gun, and the story, in its way, is every bit as wrenching as Newtown, or Aurora, or Chardon, or the other sites of gun slaughters.
The Violence Policy Center points to studies showing that keeping a firearm in the home increases the risk of homicide by a factor of three. More, a gun in the home is four times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting death or injury than in self-defense.
On Thursday evening, Wylene Edwards wanted to make a quick trip to the store before returning to her North Hill home to watch Jeopardy. On the snowy way, she encountered two men in the middle of the road. She flashed her high beams. When she drove by, shots fired, one bullet landing in her shoulder. Soon, she was receiving care in the hospital.
These episodes followed many others like them. The Akron Police Department has been working to combat gun violence. So have departments in other cities across the country. James Nice, the Akron police chief, shared with Phil Trexler that the department seized 652 illegal guns last year, more than 1,200 during the past two years. The likelihood is, that is a small fraction of the total circulating in the city.
The father of Jamarcus Allen shouldn’t have been carrying a gun due to a prior felony conviction.
Here is a source of immense frustration in attempting to address gun violence. Time magazine noted that in 1968, there was one gun for every two Americans. Today, there are 300 million in the country, or roughly equal to the population.
How do law enforcement authorities fight with any success against such a tide to reduce the 12,000 homicides caused by gunfire each year? (More than 18,000 people kill themselves with guns annually.)
Many of us may disagree sharply with the U.S. Supreme Court overturning a Washington, D.C., law banning the private ownership of pistols. The majority misread the aim of the Second Amendment, the priority on effective state militias. The court held that the amendment permits Americans to bear arms for their self-defense. So, that part of the discussion is over (at least for now). The individual right has been affirmed.
What the court also made plain is that the right is not absolute. It left room for regulating and restricting gun ownership. As Richard Posner, a federal appeals court judge in Chicago, explained in a 2008 essay in The New Republic, the majority limited ownership, in part, to those weapons that are not “highly unusual in society at large.” In other words, nothing of the modern military variety.
Might that include military-style assault weapons? The 1934 National Firearms Act has removed machine guns from the streets.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein unveiled legislation that would ban the sale and manufacture of 157 types of semiautomatic weapons. The proposal has the virtue of much tighter language than a similar ban that expired nine years ago. Still, data show that as worthy as the tougher regulation is, likely saving lives, such assault weapons are used in a tiny fraction of gun crimes.
The much greater threat resides in the gun that killed Jamarcus Allen.
All of it signals the need for a comprehensive response, or what President Obama has begun to outline. If requiring background checks for all gun sales makes sense, so do such items as limiting the capacity of magazines, expanding research into gun violence, improving access to mental health care, ensuring states share information more effectively and launching a highly visible campaign for responsible gun ownership.
Listen to the experts in crime-fighting, and they talk about the value of police departments targeting “hot spots” with the necessary resources. The Akron Police Department has been trying to track every gun it seizes. What steps would make the task easier going forward?
Chief Nice advocates harsher penalties for illegal gun possession.
Others tout gun buyback programs and the pursuit of gun lock technology linked to a fingerprint.
Words matter, and Vice President Biden lately has joined the voices arguing for an emphasis on “gun safety.” Even better would be taking the advice of those who frame gun violence as a question of public health, the country and communities engaging as they have to curb smoking or drunken driving.
People still smoke. They drink and drive. They do not to the extent they once did. There may be no stopping an Adam Lanza, but, surely, there are ways, taken together, to reduce gun violence, bringing the toll down to 25,000 a year or 20,000 a year.
Might the father of Jamarcus Allen have followed the urging of his wife, or been without a gun, if all of us long ago had mobilized aggressively and persistently to save lives?
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at email@example.com.