By David Cruz
On the day after another shooting on a university campus — also National Gun Violence Awareness Day — the Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee met to discuss gun control efforts, in some cases clarifying who should be allowed to carry a firearm and in other cases who shouldn’t. A measure that would have attempted to get a smart gun bill back on the agenda was tabled. But beneath the polite tone of today’s hearing were hardened positions that seem unlikely to change.
“You look at Newark, Camden, Jersey City, Trenton, wherever it is you want to find there are a lot of shootings on a regular basis, I would venture to guess that none of them are committed by law-abiding citizens carrying legally purchased weapons,” suggested Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, “so throwing laws at the subject, which only impact the law-abiding, is a problem.”
But lawmakers from urban areas — including Paterson’s Shovanda Sumter — say more guns only equate to more potential for tragedy.
“I hail from an urban center, and when we have children being shot — Genesis Rincon, Armani Sexton — we had a stray bullet fly through a window from someone who didn’t know how to use a gun,” said Assemblywoman Sumter. “We need to think outside the box and we need to make sure that — to the best of our ability — we’re not allowing weapons to get into the hands of persons to have a mass shootout that can harm innocents, which we have happen, daily.”
Incidents like yesterday’s murder/suicide on the UCLA campus, garner the most attention. But, as we reported this week, places like Camden and Newark and Jersey City see gun violence on a daily basis, so much so that it hardly registers a blip on the nightly news. Some say police tactics like stop and frisk — unpopular as they may be — are a useful tool, especially in urban areas.
“At the risk of being totally politically incorrect, one half of all murderers and one half of all murder victims are about 2 percent of the population, young, black males,” Carroll said. “So, when Bloomberg put that program into effect, countless thousands of lives of young, black males were saved. The fact of the matter is, that if you’re in high-crime areas, those are the people you’re probably going to be looking at.”
In Camden, where police are seeing more than double the homicide rate of last year at this time, many residents would find it hard to disagree with some of that. But they’re not lawmakers, or public policy experts. They’re just people, trying to go to work every day and get back home before the violence makes the street too hot.
“When I get done here, I go home and mind my business, go in the house and I don’t run around,” lamented Camden resident Lonnie. “I wish I could change the time back to when I started up back in the the ’70s. Things was much better, yes. But it’s never going to happen.”
And while mass shootings in presumed safe zones like elementary schools and college campuses attract most of the attention, few could deny the scars that gun-related violence leaves on the streets of New Jersey’s cities, one victim at a time.
A new report today says that since the Newtown massacre in 2012, a school shooting occurs in this country about once a week, a reminder that gun rights debates often take place in the abstract, unlike gun-related carnage, which is quite real.