By Madelyn Colon
CTLatinoNews.com Political Columnist
Like so many other Connecticut residents, I waited eagerly to learn about the members appointed to the new Connecticut Task Force on Gun Violence and its three subcommittees (school safety, guns and mental health) announced last week. The subcommittees will begin holding public hearings this month and the Task Force has an ambitious plan to complete its work and make recommendations to the General Assembly in early spring on whether changes are needed to state gun laws and administrative policies.
I, for one, am encouraged there are 50 CT legislators on the task force, more than one-fourth of the entire General Assembly – as this is one of the most critical public safety issues of our time. But, I couldn’t help but wonder how the membership of this important task force was determined. For instance, I immediately noticed that there is only one Latino elected official, who represents a mostly suburban part of the state, (state Sen. Art Linares – R- 33 district) on the group and no Latino legislators from our cities. Also, the city of Bridgeport, our state’s largest city, is not represented.
With the national spotlight on our state following the Sandy Hook shootings, the Connecticut Task Force has a rare opportunity to lead the effort and serve as a model on how best to reduce the growing epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Other states will be watching our recommendations so it’s so important we get it right.
We have only to look at the statistics and studies or perhaps just watch television news to know gun violence is rampant in urban centers and that it regularly involves communities of color. In fact, a majority of gun homicides occur in urban centers in Connecticut. The Center for American Progress reports that Latino males had the third highest rate of death from gun violence after blacks and American Indians in the U.S., and that of the 62 center cities in the 50 largest metro areas that account for 15% of the U.S. population, 40% of deaths from gun-related murders occur in cities. A New York City Crime and Enforcement Activity summary of crimes in 2009 reported that blacks and Hispanics are shooting victims much more frequently than whites or Asians. In New York City that year, 24.7% of shooting victims were Hispanic, compared to 3% of whites.
In Connecticut, there were 78 shootings in Bridgeport last year and of the 367 gun homicides that were committed in CT since 2009, 73.3% occurred in New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport. These cities also include the largest Latino populations in the state. In a recent USA Today/Gallup telephone survey of U.S. households, Hispanic dissatisfaction with the U.S. gun laws is increasing and want them to become stricter.
President Obama’s Anti-Gun Violence Plan includes 23 executive orders to immediately address gun violence even as Congress considers major reforms on banning military-style assault weapons. The plan will remove legal and administrative barriers to allow states to share information on background checks and recommends adoption of a model emergency response protocol for U.S. schools, houses of worship and public gathering places to respond to emergency situations involving gun violence. There is a first-time opportunity to bring uniformity to federal laws that affect guns and to loosen up state border issues that can control the movement of guns.
The U.S. Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of U.S. mayors that has grown from 15 to 800 mayors since 2006, under the leadership of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is actively supporting federal gun reforms and interstate cooperation to track guns. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra is the Connecticut chairman of the coalition.
Earlier this year Governor Malloy and several CT Mayors announced ‘Project Longevity” a joint federal and state initiative launched in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven that offers a best practices model in “focused deterrence” that has worked in Providence and Boston on addressing gun violence with a zero tolerance approach and strong community supports at the family level.
A pro-gun advocate said recently that the problem is not the guns: it’s the people that have them. Robert Crook, the CT Chairman of the Connecticut Coalition of Sportsmen, said that his top priority in the oncoming debate over changes to gun laws is the relationship between guns and mental health, one of the three subcommittees of the Connecticut Task Force.
There is indeed a lot to cover in the Connecticut Task Force work and more Latino leaders need to be at the table or it runs the risk of missing an important perspective on all the factors that affect gun violence.
By Madelyn Colon