New York Anti-Violence Activist: Guns Themselves Are Not The Problem

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File

Democrats across the country are worried that the rising violent crime rate is going to cost them seats in next year’s midterm elections, but their attempts to deal with the issue aren’t garnering praise from some activists who see the establishment wing of the party’s new push for policing as a step in the wrong direction.

In Rochester, New York, for example, anti-violence activist Antonia Wynter says she’s keeping an open mind about a new federal task force called VIPER (for Violence Prevention and Elimination Response), but she has a lot of concerns that the task force is going to measure success by the number of arrests made and not an actual reduction in violence

Wynter also says she wants officials to know they don’t want to be over-policed because some of the community is struggling to maintain good relationships with local law enforcement agencies.

She also emphasized the important of proactive, community-based policing.

“Guns themselves are not the problem, it’s the mindset of the person who has the gun in their hand that is problematic,” Wynter said.

She’s absolutely right, and I appreciate her saying it. Unfortunately, thanks to New York’s subjective and discriminatory licensing laws, many people who are theoretically able to bear arms are in reality prevented from doing so because they can’t demonstrate a “justifiable need.” That, in turn, inevitably leads to some people carrying a gun without a license; not because they have any violent criminal intent, but because they’d rather run the legal risk of being busted for illegal possession of a firearm than be defenseless in high-crime neighborhoods.

The local Black Lives Matter chapter in Rochester, known as Free the People ROC, was even more pointed in their criticism of the new federal task force.

“Federal law enforcement are using the same strategies that destroyed Black and brown communities, ruined lives, and created the largest prison population in the world. We can’t punish our way to safety. Public safety and an end to the violence demands real community investment, violence interruption, and mental health and substance use services. Stop-and-frisk, pretextual stops, and other forms of ‘proactive’ policing openly discriminate against Black men and open the door for more devastating police violence.

We urge our city leaders to invest in actual solutions by bringing in Advance Peace, a proven community-based violence interruption program that doesn’t rely on policing and punishment to prevent violence. Unlike the proposed federal task force, Advance Peace has a track record of decreasing gun violence in communities like ours. It’s time to act.”

There’s nothing wrong with programs like Advance Peace, which focuses on “the small percentage of individuals who are most likely to commit or become victims of gun violence, but whom law enforcement is unable to build a case against.” But there’s also a role for law enforcement to play in dealing with that core group of prolific violent offenders, which is why I believe that programs like Operation Ceasefire offer a more comprehensive approach to addressing those individuals who are driving the violence.

You don’t have to support defunding the police to believe that law enforcement should focus its efforts on violent crimes, and you don’t have to be a Second Amendment supporter to believe that trying to gun control our way to safety is a poor crime-fighting strategy. Personally, I’m glad to see these activists aren’t out there demanding more gun control laws, but if they truly want to “reimagine policing,” they should be advocating for a repeal of many of the states restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms and arguing for full recognition of the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers.

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET