Too many Guns

Aug 16, 2012

The carnage of gun violence has marred summer all across America. RIPR Political analyst Scott MacKay says Rhode Island lawmakers can offer a helping hand.

From the Rocky Mountains to New England’s craggy coast, each week brings another desultory report of  lives cut short by murder. You can’t  flick on a television news spot these days without another incident in the blur of senseless killing.

There were the murders of 12 innocent movie goers in Colorado during a showing of The Dark Night Rises. This shooting sent an eerie message of the porous line between pop culture film and reality.

Then there were the killings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and at Texas A&M University. Closer to home, Providence has experienced 13 murders so far this year, most of them in our capital city’s poor and gritty neighborhoods. Way too many children in Providence are growing up with gunshots as the background noise to life.

There was a time when young men, hopped up on testosterone and alcohol, settled their differences and turf rivalries with fists. Nowadays those disputes all too often spiral into gun violence.

Liberals and conservatives have long argued over the causes of gun violence. Liberals point to poverty, the lack of jobs for young men trapped in crumbling neighborhoods and the failure of  prison rehabilitation programs. Conservatives point to culture, asserting family breakdown breeds lawlessness and the need for stricter penalties.

The culture of guns is deeply embedded in our country. Liberals once campaigned for tougher gun control  laws, but have in recent elections given up that fight. From President Obama on down, Democrats have shed their gun control spines, deciding they can’t win elections fighting with the deep pockets and grass-roots advocacy of the gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association. And it’s paying off for the gun makers. The Wall Street Journal reports that gun sales are up 20 percent so far in 2012.

Teny Gross of Providence’s Institute for the Study and Practice of   Nonviolence works to tamp down violence in the capital city’s toughest neighborhoods. Steve Pare is the city’s commissioner of public safety and a former head of the state police.

Gross and Pare have a similar diagnoses: There are just too many guns in the seen-better-days neighborhoods of our largest city.

What else can you conclude when the city police confiscate an AK-47 rifle from a party goer at an ethnic festival on the South Side a week ago?

“There are just way to many guns,’’ says Pare. “Access to guns is way too easy and that’s the problem.’’

Politicians love to talk about the need to revive Providence’s downtrodden neighborhoods and the need for housing, school improvement and infrastructure repairs. But no one is going to move to or invest in a neighborhood where gunshots shatter the quiet of a summer night. Personal safety is the bedrock for creating the conditions for neighborhood turnaround.

Given the national aversion to gun control, Rhode Island cannot turn back the scourge of gun violence. What the state General Assembly can do is approve a sensible measure pushed by Providence City Hall during the most recent legislative session: increasing criminal penalties for gun-related crimes.

It would represent an infant step, but it would be in the right direction. New York City has helped reduce gun crimes, says Pare, the Providence’s public safety director.

“If you get caught carrying a gun in New York City, you’re going to jail,’’ says Pare.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that were the case in Providence?

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday at 6:45 and 8:45 on Morning Edition. You can also follow his analysis and political reporting at our `On Politics’ blog at