This latest gun violence in my community came on the heels of an unspeakable tragedy that has left our hearts aching. During the month we celebrate love and equality across the country, a man obtained deadly weapons and used those weapons to senselessly murder 49 people. It’s unspeakable. It’s horrific. It’s heartbreaking. I stand with the LGBT community today, and always, offering my love and support to all those who are hurting.
There may always be hate in our world. But without guns, hate is not nearly as deadly. By refusing to act, Congress has made a choice to let the gun violence continue while local officials are left to deal with the consequences. The Orlando police and EMTs were called to respond to this tragedy. The Orlando community will be grappling with it for years to come. Our residents, our mayors, our city councils are left holding the bag when Congress does nothing to protect us.
Every day in our cities, we see even basic disagreements turn deadly because of guns. Something as minor as one person accidentally bumping into the other gets violent. One of them has a gun. The other ends up dead. Or a child playing with a gun in her home accidentally shoots and kills her friend. Or an abusive man uses a gun to shoot his intimate partner.
These are the things that keep me up at night because these are the things that happen in my community.
The D.C. homicide rate is on a downward trend from its high of 482 homicides in 1992. Even so, last year homicides were up, as they were in other cities, too. The District experienced 162 homicides; we had been down to 105 the year before. Not a week goes by that I do not hear from a constituent who is worried about crime. The District has police with whom I’ve had great success in collaboration. We rely on our police, our community leaders and activists to help address gun violence in our neighborhoods, but we are hamstrung by a group of people whom we did not elect, who do not represent us, and who don’t care about what happens in our lives on a daily basis. Over the years, the District has had some of the strongest gun-violence-prevention laws on the books. But they are constantly under threat by the federal court system, by Congress and by nearby states with much weaker protections.
So local officials do what we can. In anticipation of the crime spikes that most major cities see in warmer months I held a public safety meeting for my constituents in April. Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier came with her team, and residents sat with their local officers to discuss strategies for addressing persistent crime. This type of collaboration helps resolve crime in neighborhoods. I’ve worked to ensure the police have the support they need, including a budget increase that will add 60 officers to the force and continue the body camera roll-out. I’ve voted for programs to support at-risk youth and their families, and a rebate program for residents to purchase security cameras that can be used for police investigations. With colleagues, I am working to fund an innovative data-driven crime prevention bill that failed to get funding in our latest budget. I’ve supported programs that help released prisoners become productive members of society after serving their time instead of sliding back into criminal activity. But none of these actions will end the late-night police calls when we know illegal guns are finding their way into our city.
We need these guns off the street. Period. Last year the DC Metropolitan Police Department recovered 1,609 weapons. The year before that, it recovered 2,178. This week, with the help of a resident who called 911, officers in Ward 1 recovered another firearm. Police are doing incredible work in this area, but I’m still worried. There was a glimmer of hope after the shootin in Newtown, Conn., but a bill requiring sensible background checks failed in the Senate.
This is not an argument against our Second Amendment right. I have friends who own guns for recreational purposes, and I understand, to some extent, why that’s important to them. Those of us who want reform are not asking for unreasonable restrictions. We’re asking Congress to implement universal background checks and ban assault weapons. In cities, local governments are asking to be the ones to determine what we allow on our streets. We’re not asking for so much. But what we are asking could save thousands of lives.
It’s impossible to have this conversation about gun violence prevention without talking about statehood. The residents of the District have no voting voice in Congress to help end this epidemic of violence in our cities. Perhaps most ironic is that the last time we got close in Congress to passing statehood legislation, our efforts were undermined by an attempt to gut D.C.’s gun laws.
As a local leader, I’m begging Congress to act. But who will listen to me? None of them represent me. I have heard President Obama call for reform after each incident, urging, even shaming Congress to act. Last night’s filibuster by Senate Democrats is an encouraging, if tentative, step in the right direction.
I don’t want to be undermined by Congress anymore. I want to be able to protect the boys and girls, fathers and mothers, all the people who share our community and make it such a wonderful place to live. Members of Congress should want the same.
Brianne K. Nadeau, a Democrat, represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council.