A Noble Effort

The National Gun Victims Action Council reports on their website that the vast majority of gun related murders in the United States, approximately 12,000 per year; and the 66,000 non-fatal shootings per year are committed primarily by people who have no legal right to possess their weapon. They have asked and I have asked in previous columns, how it is that communities that are impoverished have access to an abundance of weapons. The short answer is that the United States does not have a federal law that defines gun trafficking or straw purchasing as a crime. Adding to the difficulty of the issue is that there are federal laws that make it close to impossible for law enforcement or other advocacy organizations to obtain and coordinate crime gun trace information. The Gun Victims Action Council has pointed out, as have others, that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF); had been without a permanent director since the Bush Administration, until B. Todd Jones, was just recently confirmed and sworn in as the Agency's director.

United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with a bipartisan team of senate colleagues including Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Republican Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill); introduced earlier this year a bill entitled Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act of 2013. Given the environment in Washington, and the recent efforts to reform national gun control laws, the bill may never be passed, but it spotlighted the weaknesses in our efforts to stem the flow of illegal weapons, particularly to inner city urban communities who suffer greatly from the presence and use of illegally possessed firearms.

The bill, S.54, would establish specific offenses to prohibit and punish straw purchasing of firearms; would create a federal statute to criminalize gun trafficking and those who conspire to traffic or organize straw purchases; and would enhance laws regarding the transfer of guns to prohibited persons. The law, if passed, would be an important tool in the fight against illegal weapons possession and the battle to stem the loss of hundreds of young urban victims of gun violence. Many of whom like Lloyd Morgan, Jr., a 4-year-old; Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teen who had attended President Barack Obama's inauguration in January of this year, or 1-year-old Antiq Hennis, were innocent by-standers.

The president has urged the nation to act. He pushed hard for new and modest gun control legislation, but the Senate failed to pass a bill. The president had even instructed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify the most important and significant issues in firearm violence and its relationship to the public health of the nation. As has been reported, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council conducted the CDC's research and found, among other important findings, that concealable firearms or handguns are used in the vast majority of violent crimes.

The recently released 2012 FBI national crime report showed that violent crime is on the decrease. Large cities like New York, and Los Angeles reported decreases in the murder rates; and New York had its lowest murder rate since 1963 when they began keeping statistics. However, while this is good news for many cities and the country in general, large urban centers and minority communities are still faced with significant problems as it relates to gun violence. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, has reported that through early October 2013, the windy city has suffered through approximately 1,771 shooting victims. Many of these shootings are unfortunately in communities of color.

Chicago has suffered recently as the poster city for gun violence. While the issue is national and not a local Chicago issue, Chicago being the center of the country does serve as a city that can be used to spotlight the problem and perhaps be the host for the solutions. We all remember when Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. in 1966 went to Chicago to highlight the battle against up-south Jim Crow. Termed as the Chicago Freedom Movement, Dr. King and his family moved into a Chicago tenement and lead the effort to spotlight the racial segregation in Chicago as particularly manifested in its housing and the housing conditions. Dr. King marched through predominantly white neighborhoods demanding fair housing laws. The anger and hatred spewed at Dr. King during those marches forced Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley to hold summit meetings with King, and all interested parties that ended in an agreement between the movement and the city to promote fair housing in exchange for ending the marches.

Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network; and Martin L. King, III have just announced their intentions to move into a West Chicago apartment to spotlight the gun violence plaguing the city. Rev. Sharpton has said that he wants to use his time and presence to help those who have been working on this issue and to help generate greater support for their efforts. It seems perfectly suited for bringing about the sort of national summit with all stakeholders and all sides of the equation to do something to relieve the suffering of those in the projects and other areas that are the continuing victims of gun violence and particularly gun violence associated with the illegal possession of weapons. Illegal weapons that are trafficked into our large urban centers and are the primary tool of the young and unengaged to do nothing more than kill each other without cause or value.

The National Rifle Association (NRA); is one of the stakeholders that are key to moving this issue forward. To save young children, in neighborhoods that are under served, with schools that need tremendous assistance whether chartered or public; and without jobs and opportunity, do not threatened the second amendment. It calls for those who understand, as the NRA states, that firearms secured our rights and can help to sustain our rights. Those rights are the ones enshrined in our constitution whose preamble is to assure that the rights granted are to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. If the least among us are suffering from illegal trafficking of weapons; and dying at alarming rates for singular populations, then we all must be ready to stand for remedies that promote the general welfare.

The move being made by Rev. Sharpton and Martin King III can be supported without conflict by all who have a stake in real solutions. Together, those efforts can be truly noble with real results which save real lives and whole communities.

Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN). He has been involved in many of this nation's highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights. He continues to supervise National Action Network's crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City's House of Justice