Mass gun violence rears its head again in Baltimore, beyond
The recent mass shootings, one of which took place in Baltimore this past week, brought the national mass shooting toll to 371 in 2023. There will be more, and it's not clear progress is in sight.
This past week saw two more high-profile shootings in America, one of which was both deadly and close to home.
On July 2, two people were killed and another 28 were injured in a mass shooting in South Baltimore. About six hours away in Cleveland, nine were shot and wounded on Sunday, exactly one week later. No perpetrators have been arrested in either case.
After repeatedly being exposed to violence, it may seem unavoidable to become numb.
Society can’t seem to make it long before more victims are pronounced dead or others are scarred for life, sometimes with bullet shrapnel forever remaining embedded in their bodies as they try to move on with their lives.
The responses from local officials are becoming increasingly repetitive; the potential solutions seem futile.
So, why does this keep happening, and how the hell can it be stopped?
Baltimore is a good example, as it for decades has been a city mired in gun violence while officials desperately come up with a well-intentioned initiative to combat the systemic issue.
Historical homicide data can be tracked using Baltimore Police Department data. The Baltimore Sun maintains a database dating back to 2007.
The year 2007 is well-known in Baltimore, as that’s when the city launched its Safe Streets initiative, which it calls “Baltimore’s flagship gun violence reduction program.”
The concept of the program is to use “trusted messengers” in the community to spread anti-violent rhetoric and Interrupt the spread of violence.
In fact, the city as a whole came under fire for a lack of police presence on July 2. It was discovered that the Safe Street crews working during the South Baltimore block party that day ended their shifts before the shooting happened.
Gripes from citizens came despite the fact that in March, a Johns Hopkins University study reported that the initiative has reduced shootings in certain areas, “resulting in fewer homicides, despite ‘relatively modest’ costs to the city and challenges in staffing the inherently dangerous work,” The Banner reported.
Baltimore’s program is somewhat similar to an initiative that was implemented in 2016 by the York City Police Department in York, Pennsylvania, an hour north.
That program, the “Group Violence Initiative,” is premised on the assertion that a very small number of people in any city perpetrate the vast majority of violent crimes.
So to reduce violent crime, law enforcement has to identify and target that small group of people, who are often involved in gangs or the drug trade or both. Those targeted during call-in presentations then carry the message back to their associates.
Over the years, officials in both cities, even if admitting some flaws, have supported the programs. Especially when it comes to gun violence reduction though, numbers talk.
In the case of York City, gun violence data over the years has not clearly made much progress. That seems to also be the case in Baltimore.
When Safe Streets was launched in 2007, there were 282 reported homicides, according to city police data. The trend saw a mild decline until an uptick in 2014, with 342 homicides.
That spike has yet to settle, as the numbers have remained consistent since 2014, with 335 homicides last year. That brings Baltimore where it is now, in the aftermath of a mass shooting, with 148 homicides as of Monday.
It ranks second in the nation with its per-capita homicide rate, only behind Atlanta. So the numbers aren’t decreasing; if anything, they’re slowly trending upward.
Those numbers don’t even tell the full story of gun violence, as they only include cases where a victim was killed. The data does not include incidents where someone was shot and only injured.
In addition, it includes all homicides. When taking into account only gun-related homicides, there have been 3,927 incidences compared to 4,657 total since 2007.
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So, how many more lives will be lost, vigils held and tears shed before more concrete solutions are formed? It’s far from clear.
Oftentimes, the question is framed by simultaneously insinuating that the problem can be fixed by leadership at the top.
Some local media in Baltimore questioned whether the violence would hurt Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s bona fides. It’s far from uncommon, after all, to demand answers from city leadership.
However, the gun violence issue is so much more. First of all, federal and state politicians often have significantly more power in curbing access to deadly firearms.
At the local level, Baltimore City Council members may be better recipients of those questions, as they are the ones who have the legislative power to do what they can at the city level.
But although no public official should be spared from the gun violence debate, the issue itself is largely cultural.
With the mass shootings in Baltimore and Cleveland, there have been 371 nationwide so far in 2023, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Initiative. There will be more, and it's unclear how the pace will be slowed down.
That’s because gun violence in the country is as much a cultural issue, if not more so, than something that can be solved by policy.
Although the gun control movement has grown exponentially, there is still a large faction of the conservative voting bloc that makes access to guns a priority in regard to whom they vote for.
The connection between democracy and gun rights has been blurred. Rather than view gun control as a means to bolster public safety, many see it instead as a test of their constitutional rights.
Therefore, politicians are afraid to run on something too “extreme” when it comes to gun violence reduction because it is seen as politically untenable.
Either they will lose votes from those who love their guns, they fear, or they will lose chances of reelection by advocating for gun control measures that are deemed too restrictive in their districts or states.
Gun control legislation, then, is often neutered to appeal to more conservative-minded voters as the death counts rack up. More serious legislation is seen as a non-starter.
And that underlying culture, which sees firearms as an example of virility among men and God-fearing conservative prowess among women, is what really needs to change.
This isn’t a problem solved from the top. It very well may be solved from the bottom up, and both policies and a change in American culture will be necessary.
It’s not an overnight fix. But seeing people die at the hands of gun violence each day should be enough to constitute a call to action.