Our Opinion: Promising ways to stop urban gun violence

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Pittsfield has a gun violence problem.

Last Sunday's fatal shooting of Stephanie Olivieri, 32, of Yonkers, N.Y., while she was sitting in a car on Columbus Avenue, was at least the fifth shooting incident here in roughly a month's time, and the second involving known injuries.

In October 2017, 22-year-old Asiyanna Jones died after a bullet pierced the window of a car she was sitting in on Dewey Avenue. These and other incidents have different circumstances but they have the weapon of choice in common.

Unlike the nation at large, which due to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot even get a vote on gun safety legislation backed by a majority of Americans according to polls, Massachusetts has introduced tough, successful gun laws in recent years..This coming session, lawmakers hope to go further.

On Wednesday the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held a hearing accepting testimony on a variety of firearm-related bills, most notably efforts to address the kind of urban gun violence that plagues Pittsfield and other cities. The hearing contained input from law enforcement, interest groups and members of the public.

A recent shoot-out in the middle of Cambridge drew attention to the fact that, as the Boston Globe reported, spraying bullets around a neighborhood is no more than a misdemeanor under Massachusetts law. The Suffolk County DA's office proposes that this behavior be raised to a felony with a sentence of up to five years in prison. A proposed bill would crack down on "ghost guns," which are assembled by ordering various firearm parts from around the country, by requiring they be given a unique serial number. Boston law enforcement agencies back a bill that would heavily fine those whose cars are used to transport illegal guns. Rep. David P. Linsky proposes that those seeking a gun license undergo several hours of live firearms training, comparing this measure to requiring a road test before someone can get a driver's license. Several in law enforcement complained that it is difficult to access gun data collected by the state and urged legislation to to make it simpler.

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Gun Owners Action League Executive Director Jim Wallace told the committee that the state's already strict gun laws had not been successful. "The only thing these gun laws have done is to make the people I represent suffer, who try to get through these laws without being in violation and, frankly, the inner-city people that are being murdered in record numbers," said Mr. Wallace.

In fact, Massachusetts has the second fewest gun deaths per capita in the nation according to federal statistics. In general, states with the toughest gun laws rank lowest, and states with the least restrictive gun laws (primarily in the South) have the highest rate per capita.

Alaska, which has the highest rate of gun deaths, also has the highest percentage of homes containing guns. In the quote above, Mr. Wallace appears to be arguing that inner city residents should arm themselves. At this point, no one on Pittsfield's Westside is making the case they need more guns in the neighborhood.

Gun violence is a major public health problem in the United States. It manifests itself in the killing of domestic partners, mass shootings, suicide and violence. As reported in Thursday's Eagle by Amanda Drane, Cara Carnevale, whose son was shot twice in the head last year in October Mountain State Forest in Washington and survived, said she knows many in Pittsfield who feel trapped in a neighborhood "constantly under the siege of violence."

"When is something going to change? We are losing the battle," she added.

Winning the battle against gun violence in Pittsfield will be difficult because the city and state are at the mercy of guns brought in from elsewhere. The measures mentioned above will help prevent the circumvention of the state's tough laws, and they should in no way pose a threat to law-abiding gun owners. Beacon Hill has shown that it can legislate gun laws that are effective and worry no one other than criminals. We hope that effort continues this session, to the benefit of inner city residents of communities like Boston, Worcester, Springfield — and Pittsfield.

This editorial has been modified to correct the location of the shooting in which Nick Carnevale was wounded.


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