Stopping gun violence

Mass shootings nationwide and homicides locally have sparked a community dialogue about gun violence.

When Ousmane Goudiaby arrived in Indianapolis from his native Senegal in 2008, he was prepared to work hard to achieve the American dream.

What he experienced, however, was the nightmare of gun violence that has devastated numerous families.

On Jan. 27, Goudiaby, 30, was found fatally shot inside a business in a strip mall in the 2700 block of Westlane Road, on the city’s Northside. He had been working there part time while pursuing his second college degree.

“It’s really sad and it probably happened over something senseless,” nearby resident Carletta Satterfield said while shopping at a Marsh grocery store across the street from the crime scene. “I think it’s also another example of how out of hand all this violence with guns is getting.”

Indeed, violence committed with guns and what to do about it has become a dominate topic of discussion nationally and locally. In Indianapolis, various leaders, including those in the African-American community, have expressed urgency about the need to find ways to prevent deaths from gun violence.

“Reducing gun violence has to be the No. 1 priority of the Black community,” said Rev. Charles Harrison, pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church and a leader of the Ten Point Coalition, an alliance of faith-based leaders and concerned individuals dedicated to stopping violence. “That’s where we need to get our city to put more of our resources. Newtown received a lot of publicity, but in the Black community we are losing kids everyday,” Harrison said.

He noted that 99 gun-related homicides were committed in Indianapolis last year, a reduction from previous years, but more work needs to be done.

“That is still too many,” he said. “We can reduce the number even further if it becomes the focus of our community.”

Nationally, efforts to curb gun violence has become a priority for President Barack Obama’s administration, which has proposed several sweeping measures. These proposals came largely as the result of violent incidents that took place throughout 2012, most notably the devastating mass shooting that killed 27 people, mostly children, in Newtown, Conn.

In Indianapolis, gun violence has been brought to the forefront following recent incidents involving brawls and gunshots being fired at Circle Centre and Lafayette Square malls, as well as homicides that occurred in January such as the Goudiaby shooting.

On Tuesday representatives from all of the city’s major religious groups, law enforcement officials, business executives and concerned residents met at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church to discuss solutions to gun violence and address incidents downtown.

“What’s happened downtown is an extension of what’s going on in our neighbrhoods,” said Harrison. “IMPD showed us that homicides and aggravated assault remain high in four zip codes, and we want to make sure we reach out to kids in those areas and keep guns away from them.”

Another meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 5 at 9:30 a.m. at Galilee, which is located at 2624 E. 25th St.

Like other cities, Indianapolis also witnessed an increase in gun buying and selling by individuals who may fear they soon won’t be able to purchase certain weapons if President Obama’s proposals become law.

Last month, for example, thousands stood in long lines to buy, sell or trade firearms during the 1500 Gun and Knife Show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Shortly thereafter, the Indiana affiliate of One Million Moms for Gun Control took to the streets, marching near the state Capitol building to call for strong gun laws, in response to last year’s mass shootings.

“We definitely need stricter laws here in Indiana,” said organizer Andrea Spiegelberg. “We have very lax conceal and carry legislation and background issues. We must make changes not just on the national level, but the state level as well.”

Possible solutions

President Obama’s administration has led efforts to reduce gun violence with its new proposals and has been rallying support from the public and law enforcement to get them passed by Congress.

Among the measures are restoration of the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, universal background checks for gun buyers, limiting magazines to 10 rounds, increasing mental health resources, boosting funding for school security and lifting restrictions that prevent the government from studying causes of gun violence.

Organizers in Indianapolis and other cities have promoted gun buy-back programs as another way to get firearms off the streets. With gun buy-back programs, gun owners can turn in their firearm, no questions asked, for money, a gift card or another type of reward.

Last summer, Indianapolis pastors sponsored gun buy-back programs that saw hundreds of guns being turned in.

“It was a way to get guns off the street and to also keep young people from hurting themselves or someone else with a gun,” said Rev. Melvin Girton, pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church and an organizer of one of the gun buy-back programs.

In Gary, Ind., city officials expressed satisfaction with gun buy-back events held with churches last year in August and December, with each netting over 100 weapons, including several assault and semi-automatic weapons.

“The gun buy-back program exceeded our expectations,” said Gary Police Chief Wade Ingram. “Previous turn-ins yielded 50 weapons, so we were happy to go beyond that.”

In New Albany, city officials had a very successful gun buy-back program that attracted more attention and a longer line than they anticipated. Saying they wanted to get guns out of the hands of people who can’t legally own guns, such as convicted felons, city officials sought to offer gun owners more than what they could make on the street, paying $200 for pistols, shotguns and rifles and $300 for assault weapons.

Harrison said gun buy-back programs have been successful in some places, but not as much in others. He believes a plan to make sure every gun buyer has to be registered is a good priority.

“Universal gun licensing is the better approach to reducing the flow of guns, particularly urban settings,” said Harrison, who was part of a national group of pastors (and the only one from Indiana) who met with White House officials to highlight anti-violence solutions. “The big issue is keeping illegal guns from getting in the hands of youth and criminals.”

Harrison said Ten Point leaders have noticed that people often buy firearms on the black market, steal them in burglaries, receive them from girlfriends or relatives with clean records or purchase them in large quantities from gun shows to sell on the street.

Many gun owners support background checks, but are opposed to limits on what kind of weapons they can purchase and how many rounds can be in a magazine.

Activist Christopher Arps believes President Obama’s proposed legislation is unconstitutional, and could do more harm than good.

“Heavy-handed gun control will disarm law-abiding citizens, leaving open the potential of eventually making good people prisoners in their own homes should criminals run amok in their communities,” said Arps, a member of Project 21, a conservative African-American policy group. “Instead, we must realize our culture has changed, and the reasons for this change are debatable. We should have that discussion instead of diving into rash decisions that can affect our liberty.”

Jim Robinson, a security guard at the Marsh store near the Goudiaby shooting, said guns are not at fault for violence, but the people who are allowed to have guns and misuse them.

Still, he agrees that more oversight over gun purchases is needed.

“We have to find a way to stop the violence,” he said. “The best place to start is to better enforce the gun laws that we already have.”

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