Gun Violence is Out of Control. What Should/Can We Do

by Sherry Sherrill

A few years ago I expressed to my family members, and last year on Facebook, that the rising tide of gun violence seen in Buffalo, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, and all around these United States, should be declared a public health emergency. My mother, Betty Jean Grant, responded that I should contact the Erie County and New York State Departments Of Health, and demand that the Issue be declared as such. I admit it: I didn’t follow her advice, but I kept on paying attention to The Problem.

I kept on complaining at the community level too, and eventually, through my community engagement (which has been aided in part by my connection to my dear mother’s expansive advocacy efforts), I wound up encountering (the late) Neal Dobbins, founder of the Most Valuable Parents [MVP] Of Buffalo, New York organization, and Bishop Frederick A. Gelsey, Sr., founder of One In Christ Temple and The Homicide Education and Prevention Project [THEPP]. 

Mr. Neal Dobbins was a proponent of the repeal of a set of firearm industry-friendly provisions attached to the U.S. Department Of Justice’s Appropriations Bills, called the Tiahrt Amendments. In addition to other critically restrictive and prohibitive functionality, these riders serve to ensure that the release of gun tracer data to the public is blocked, including from researchers whom might analyze and utilize such findings in an effort to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of gun violence and how it is impacting America’s communities.

The Tiahrt Amendments made the Federal Bureau Of Investigations [FBI] complicit in the destruction of gun purchase records, which would otherwise assist the nation’s law enforcement community to identify the source (seller) and the chain of ownership (purchasers) of guns. The Tiahrt Amendments also made it impossible for civil lawsuits to hold gun sellers and manufacturers accountable, if a firearm was sold to an individual not eligible to own one and the gun was subsequently used in commission of a crime. As if all that were not terrible enough, the Tiahrt Amendments also prevented the Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives [ATF] from requiring gun dealers to forward records of the dealers’ inventory, to that agency. This furnished a lamentable ‘opportunity window,’ wherein dealers might have claimed their stock to have been burglarized, when in actuality the dealer opted to sell such: illegally. The Tiahrt Amendments ushered grief and death into our nation’s communities, and I recall quite vividly: Neal Dobbins, may he Rest In Peace, was positively adamant, absolutely vehement, concerning the need for the Tiahrt Amendments to be repealed. 

Bishop Frederick A. Gelsey, Sr. is a tireless community activist and dedicated faith leader. He has served as a visiting chaplain at Erie County’s correctional facilities for nearly three decades. He is so faithfull, that when, under departing Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard’s Administration, visiting chaplains began to be disencouraged from coming into the jail(s) to do the Lord’s Work ministering to inmates, Bishop Gelsey kept going in, he kept going back. Another important component of Bishop Gelsey’s ministry, is a bold and logical community violence mitigation initiative he calls The Homicide Education and Prevention Project. In summary, Bishop is of the belief that cultural conditioning and behavioral choice are at the root cause of opportunity, willingness, and decision to commit a homicide. Bishop attributes homicidal impulses and tendencies as arising out of and manifesting, due to the culture (i.e. the values, beliefs, and norms) that individuals are formed within and become shaped by. I believe Bishop Gelsey has a definite point.

I refer to these two community champions, and specifically to their determined efforts to extend their respective version life preserver to our beloved community, because something definitive and historic in the “proposed solution” column has transpired.  New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has declared gun violence here to be a State emergency, an official disaster. This is the first such declaration in this country. Surely, more U.S. governors will follow Cuomo’s lead. Along with establishing a New York State Office of Gun Violence Prevention, a $138.7 million dollar budget will target money to violence mitigation programs and create jobs for ‘at-risk’ youth in areas of the state that are being decimated by the scourge of gun violence.

The Governor’s Council On Gun Violence Reduction, a council focused on gun violence will also be established. Will anyone(s) from Buffalo be included in that forum? This writer proposes that (both) Bishop Frederick A. Gelsey, Sr. and at least one member of the MVP Organization, be considered for any such appointment(s). There are also many other neighborhood-level community groups and individuals, whom have been working in the trenches for decades, that likewise deserve consideration. I salute these folk.