By Wayne Jebian
The tragedy at Sandy Hook was the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, but a look at statewide murder statistics tells yet another story of violence in Connecticut. Based on a 10-year average, murders in the state each year add up to more than four times the number of victims who lost their lives in Newtown. Most of these killings occur in the state’s minority-heavy cities, with the annual homicide rate in New Haven alone rivaling that of the Sandy Hook massacre.
Last week the state Office of the Child Advocate released a report on gun violence against children. It showed from 2001 to 2012 that 94 children in Connecticut died from gun violence and another 924 were injured and that almost half of the fatalities occurred in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.
However, when it comes to gun laws on the state and federal level, city mayors’ voices been rarely heard amidst the noise of a bitter and seemingly intractable debate over the Second Amendment, as was evident in public hearings at the state capitol recently. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra acknowledges that gun violence is a “problem that we as a city are not capable of solving alone.”
The problem of urban violence is not new, but the mayors of the state’s top four cities are hoping like many, that the new, national energized focus on gun violence due to the Newtown shootings will finally bring help for their cities. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, Republican Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia and Segarra, the mayors of the state’s four largest cities, have joined mayors from across the country as members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which was formed in 2006 by Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
“Mayors Against Illegal Guns is not a Democratic or a Republican organization,” said DeStefano. “It’s an organization of mayors who care about reducing violence in their communities.” First and foremost on the group’s agenda is to demand a plan of action from the federal government that gives mayors the tools for safer cities.
Pavia was the last to join. He originally hesitated joining the group for a couple of reasons. Among them violence in his city had recently come via fatal knife attacks. But then he met a survivor of the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting, at a Conference of Mayors meeting in January.
“I had been meeting with members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns for a couple of years now, and one of the things that I wanted to do was make a statement with that organization. The past four homicides, before the latest one, … were committed by knife. What I wanted them to do was include all weapons in that, and that’s what I was trying to do: just make a statement that I am a mayor against all kinds of illegal weapons that are used to hurt other people. That was my position, and they did leave thinking that might not be a bad idea, but I guess the organization had already stamped this in their platform, and it was all about guns,” Pavia said.
“The fact is, mayors are usually the ones in the emergency rooms when (police) officers have been brought in because they’ve been shot. This is something that mayors witness all too often,” said DeStefano, who will complete 20 years in office this year. “Spree shootings, such as we witnessed in Newtown, while a tragedy, are the least common form of gun violence in America. Clearly, gang and drug-related violence committed with handguns is by far the most common form of gun violence.”
Hartford usually ranks as the state’s second most violent city. Last summer, Greater Hartford experienced 10 shootings in one weekend. But Hartford has had success in bringing down the level of violent crime. “Hartford is safer now than it has been in 30 years,” Segarra wrote in an email message to CTLatinoNews. “We’ll continue to do everything we can at the local level to create an environment where incidents like Newtown are less likely to occur.”
Segarra, who father was shot when he was less than a year old, outlined some of the steps he thought should be taken under such a plan, which included better information sharing among law enforcement agencies. “Universal background checks are important,” he wrote. “All states should be required to participate in the FBI’s NCIS database, and this includes additional efforts by the State of Connecticut, as we do not provide all of the mental health data and information that we can and should.”
DeStefano went into further detail, saying, “I think criteria for who gets a gun license and establishing clear gun ownership records … are just as important as outlawing assault rifles.”
However, on the latter point, Segarra made it clear that he has seen enough of police being outgunned by criminals, stating, “It is my belief that no civilian should own or possess a weapon with the same or similar lethality as highly-trained military or public safety personnel. The same goes for high capacity magazines and armor piercing bullets.”
Pavia echoes his Hartford counterpart. “There’s no reason for it. Ask someone what the logical explanation is for holding a handgun that has a high-power capability or an assault weapon that really belongs in the hands of police or military. What is the purpose of that? There’s only one answer, and that doesn’t belong in society, so I’ve been making my statement accordingly, that weapons that are capable of producing a high level of firepower in a very short period of time are weapons of mass destruction and they don’t belong in society.”
By Wayne Jebian