Beyond the “Ghost Gun” Ban, We Need Local Leaders to Fund Violence Prevention

President Joe Biden recently delivered a speech promising to address “ghost guns,” untraceable, self-assembled firearms. They are often put together with parts purchased online and could include material from different models. Certainly, there are too many ghost guns in Black and Brown communities due to reckless profiteering of gun manufacturers and corporations.

Let’s be clear, the administration is right to address ghost guns. Our organization, LIVE FREE commends President Biden and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco for their work to ban companies from selling do-it-yourself kits for assembling a gun without a serial number. While action to address ghost guns is long overdue, elected officials must not “ghost” Black and Brown communities ahead of the summer by failing to use American Rescue Plan dollars to scale community violence intervention strategies.

In too many cities across the country, the conversation around safety is taking on an increasingly “tough-on-crime” narrative. We do not have to make the uneven and costly exchange of justice for safety, or healing for security. Thanks to the advocacy of Fund Peace, American Rescue Plan dollars are eligible to be used for scaling up community-based violence interventions.

However, mayors and police chiefs are instead using the lion’s share of these resources to grow already bloated law enforcement departments, even though a more effective and less harmful approach is easily within reach. If elected leaders fail to invest evenly in community-based violence intervention strategies, we will see further spikes in violence, mass incarceration, separated families and hurting communities.

And let’s be clear, the Biden administration has signaled to state and local elected officials that Rescue Plan funds can be used to expand the tool belt of public safety in cities across the country. This United States Treasury Department guidance clearly lays out expansive uses of the American Rescue Plan to include things like summer jobs, housing and community violence interventions. Local and state lawmakers’ lack of imagination — and muscle memory of criminalization — are impediments to ensuring public safety in 2022.

Yes, many of our communities are afraid. All are asking for more safe and secure communities. But we need visionary leadership in this time of crisis, not reactionary solutions from a 25-year-old failed playbook of tough on crime and criminalization.

Across the country, there has been widespread coverage on the “rise in crime,” which doesn’t take into account the impacts of a devastating pandemic or persistent joblessness. The narrative about crime creates a convenient pretext allowing local and state policy makers to turn their backs on much-needed reforms. Still, the safety of our loved ones is of utmost importance. Everyone wants to live in communities where they are safe from harm. And that is why government intervention must be targeted, and it must be precise. Policy makers cannot pursue short-term solutions to long-term problems. Nor can they return to approaches that barely solve one issue while creating a slew of others.

Focusing on “rising crime” will lead policy makers to abandon criminal legal reforms and throw out the baby with the bath water. We know that returning to a tough-on-crime approach will not keep communities safe. Building safety means investing in the people and groups closest to the pain. We cannot expect that, on the heels of a bruising and traumatic global pandemic, communities do not need deeper support. The federal government knew states and local jurisdictions were suffering. They passed a COVID-19 relief bill for this very reason.

Unfortunately, too many state and local governments are using COVID-19 relief funds to invest solely in police. For instance, The Guardian reported that several large cities in California spent a significant portion of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds on police, even though the bill was passed to address job loss, housing loss and food insecurity brought on by COVID-19. Police cannot feed hungry children; nor can they address homelessness. Law enforcement reacts to crime. Their expanded coffers aren’t leading to a reduction in crime.

It is imperative that local and state governments direct funding to proven gun violence reduction and prevention strategies. If gun violence prevention programs do not fund credible messengers, clergy outreach, bedside intervention, stipends for persons seeking to leave the gang lifestyle, restorative justice and non-police-affiliated violence intervention programs, they are short-sighted. If policy makers aren’t working to address the issues that cause people to turn to violence in the first place, they aren’t doing the type of work that would lead to short- or long-term reductions in crime.

Moreover, if the approach is to embrace the victims of violence without also seeking to understand and connect with the perpetrators, we are missing the mark. We must also recognize that these groups — victims and perpetrators — often overlap. We cannot have elected officials obstructing progress by refusing to engage or tepidly engaging with community-based gun violence reduction strategies.

Right now, many municipalities are directing federal funding to everything but the strategies that have been proven to reduce gun violence and mass incarceration. As the Biden administration works with community-based groups, we hope it will shift course away from encouraging further funding for police departments. Instead, both federal and local lawmakers should act in the best interest of Black and Brown communities and fund peace.

It is time for our communities to come together and create an ecosystem where people can live free of gun violence and mass incarceration. Police were never designed to meet the systemic issues of hurting people. Responding to pain by enforcing a criminal code, as police are trained to do, is ineffective.

We cannot continue to allow policy makers to ghost Black and Brown people.