David Webber, September 26, 2019
Columbia Mayor Brian Treece and our city council should hold a summit of law enforcement, grassroots service providers, church and school personnel to propose how to stop the recent flurry of gun violence and to protect the safety of citizens. A good starting point would be to assess our progress in achieving the recommendations of the 2014 Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence https://www.como.gov/downloadfile.php?id=527 Many of its recommendations appear not to have been achieved.
Reducing gun violence in Columbia is a tall challenge. The six shootings in four separate incidents over the past two weeks is shocking. The fact that several occurred near the downtown is particularly unnerving. Two separate incidents were within two blocks of Hickman High School, one near Ridgeway School where I picked up my sons from school for seven years. Some citizens have become vocal in expressing their concern about these shootings. A new group, Save Our Sons, was formed in Columbia a few weeks ago to engage young African American men in education and their community.
Columbia, of course, is not alone in experiencing gun violence –but that should not be a consolation. We have not yet heard much about the identity of the shooters, their connection to Columbia, and any gang related activities. I imagine there is a connection among them. Maybe it is not “gang violence” but probably “group violence” involving money or drugs or some rite of retaliation among men who know one another.
I don’t know how to stop the gun violence nor do most people I have listened to this week. The best time to have addressed this problem would have been decades ago. My simple approach to understanding gun violence is similar to the “fire triangle” I learned about in Boy Scouts. To have fire, there must be fuel, heat, and oxygen. Take away one element, and the fire goes out. Similarly, gun violence requires guns, a potential shooter, and an inattentive community. Change any, or all, those elements and gun violence will be reduced.
In the immediate near-term, adequate and appropriate police action is necessary. I expect that the Columbia Police Department has a good sense of who might be involved in these shootings. Police need to use appropriate intervention to solve these crimes and establish a presence that prevents further shootings. At a minimum, potential shooters will relocate outside Columbia. Increasing police activity is costly. City leaders need to take a clear look at the city budget to insure we are expending adequate resources.
Longer-term solutions to addressing guns, shooters, and an inattentive community are costly too. Given the current national environment that resists gun controls, local restrictions on the availability of guns is unlikely. The supply of guns needs to be restricted. Some communities have held “gun buy back” events but while there is not evidence that they reduce crime, they probably are beneficial in increasing gun safety. The Missouri General Assembly should require background checks, hold the owner of record liable, and require proper storage of guns.
Most shooters have had some experience, probably unsatisfactory, with schools, the police and community organizations. We need to learn more about the development of potential shooters. Conceivably the mass incarceration of the past 30 years may be responsible for growing the perpetrators of gun violence. Furthermore, it is likely that shooters have limited educational and job opportunities. The best treatment for a potential shooter is a job and social engagement.
Despite their efforts, the public-schools have not achieved equity in education performance. African American high school graduation rates are about 20 percentage points lower than white students rates. The “good” schools have many fewer at-risk students than the “not so good” schools. In 1980, the city of Columbia budget provided about $50 of social services per low income capita; in 2019 it has budgeted $22 per low income person for similar services.
While we hold individuals responsible for their criminal behavior, the community and society at large has contributed to a gun culture. Violent computer games, videos, music and folk heroes have been around for at least two generations. The Rice Road area of Columbia has few public amenities to engage boys and young men in non-violent behavior. The ARC and Cosmos Park are wonderful facilities for those of us who have cars and can spend hours waiting for our kids during soccer practice.
Reducing gun violence seems like an impossibility but there have been American public policy successes that should give us hope. Highway fatalities have been reduced, in part because of DWI enforcement and seat belts requirements. Tobacco use has decreased remarkably through tighter restrictions on youth buying tobacco and through public education.
America needs to adopt reasonable gun control measures such as background checks to reduce gun violence. We need to take a good hard look at our gun culture, and we need to re-store our commitment to high-risk communities so that potential shooters get engaged in promoting the social welfare rather than causing human destruction.
Columbia needs to review 2014 Mayor’s Task Force on Community Violence and ask if we have done enough.