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EDITORIAL: Multifaceted solutions are needed to reduce gun violence

Even in states with strong gun control legislation, there are other preventative measures our communities can benefit from

A recent shooting in New York City sheds light on systemic issues with gun and domestic violence. – Photo by Pixabay.com

On Friday, an elderly woman in Harlem called the New York Police Department (NYPD) to ask for help. Her son, Lashawn McNeil, had repeatedly threatened her. There was no immediate threat, she told dispatchers, but she felt unsafe. What the officers did not know was that her son was armed.

Two officers and a rookie responded to the domestic disturbance call, but upon arriving, McNeil refused to exit his bedroom. The two officers called his name and went further into the apartment but were met with gunfire. Officer Jason Rivera, only 22 years old, was killed, and Officer Wilbert Mora is in critical condition. The rookie fired the shot that incapacitated McNeil, who is also currently in critical condition.

The question on your mind should be whether this bloodshed was preventable.

Perhaps you think the police could have done something differently. There is no evidence of police misconduct, in fact, the officers involved were vocal about bridging the gap between community and police, and in this case, did what was expected of them. 

Maybe you think we need stronger gun legislation. New York has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, which barred McNeil from obtaining a firearm legally. The gun that was used was stolen.

Or maybe you want to blame criminal justice reforms or lack thereof. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer, has been taking steps to reduce crime while aiming to treat defendants and perpetrators equitably.

What makes this case particularly gut-wrenching is that there is no simple solution, no clear answer as to what should have been done differently in the moment. The solution is long-term and, unfortunately, far from foolproof.

Guns — legally or illegally obtained — must be removed from those convicted of any violent offenses. In situations of domestic dispute, social worker intervention and de-escalation must come before a police response. In the event police intervention is needed, communities must be able to trust that law enforcement officers will act in an ethical and safe manner so that they can feel comfortable making a phone call to 911 when needed.

We should first address legislation that currently exists. While New York, New Jersey and a handful of other states have legislation in place to prevent those convicted of domestic violence or a violent offense from obtaining a firearm, legally, these laws are not as strong as they seem.

In New York, “all persons convicted of specific violent misdemeanors, defined as ‘serious offenses,’” are barred “from obtaining a license to purchase or possess a firearm, and requires the revocation of their existing licenses," according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In addition to legislation similar to New York law, New Jersey also bars subjects of restraining orders from obtaining a firearm.

The issue is that these laws contain serious loopholes, and fail to address illegally obtained weapons. Moreover, in New Jersey, there is “no clear process or requirement for an abuser or other person who has lost his or her eligibility to possess guns to surrender guns already in possession,” according to the Center for American Progress. Laws are worthless if not enforced.

In this case, if McNeil’s mother — the woman who called the police — knew her son was armed, she might not have known how to relay that information to law enforcement without putting herself at risk of retaliation. She should have had the opportunity to disclose the fact that her son was armed in an anonymous way before the situation escalated.

It would be prudent to create an organization that deals specifically with unarming those with illegal weapons in domestic violence cases. The creation of a department hyper-specialized in unarming offenders would both give victims a safe space to reach out to and be more equipped to handle such a situation than the police department.

The second piece of the puzzle is social worker intervention — both before a moment of crisis and during. If McNeil's mother noticed changes in her son's behavior and knew of mental health resources to contact, perhaps their situation would not have escalated to the point where police intervention was needed.

The final step is reimagining community-police relations. Individuals must possess a certain trust in law enforcement to speak out about violent incidents they do witness, report those who they know have obtained a firearm illegally and reach out to the police with pertinent information. In other similar situations, if a victim trusts the police, they may reach out to them before a boiling point is reached, shifting the focus from responding to violence to preventing it.

These solutions are not infallible. Even with a focus on unarming violent people, illegal firearms might still leak through. Even with social workers or mental health intervention programs, individuals might still violently lash out. Even if the community and the police work in tandem and trust each other, individuals may still act violently.

We cannot delude ourselves into believing in a criminal justice panacea. Reforms will take time, money and effort to implement but will reduce violence overall — even if it cannot be eliminated entirely.

In the meantime, we have to push for these reforms with our votes and support the victims of domestic and gun violence. You must be critical of legislation that passes — just because it sounds progressive does not mean it is.

If you or someone you know is struggling with violence in relationships reach out to the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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