The Rev. Charles Harrison: Gun violence is complex, multilayered problem

DEBATE Q

What does the nation need to do to curb gun violence?

For the last 23 years of my life, I have been on the streets of Indianapolis trying to end the cycle of senseless gun violence in our city. My family, like millions of families in America, has been impacted by the scourge of senseless gun violence. I lost my 21-year-old brother and my 23-year-old nephew to gun violence. I am sickened by the daily gun violence in the streets of America, and I am heartbroken by the senseless mass shootings in schools, places of worship, groceries and other public places in our country. Like all Americans, I want to see an end to this, but we must be honest about the numbers. Nearly eight in 10 U.S. murders in 2020—19,384 out of 24,576—involved a firearm.

People often ask me what can be done about the senseless violence that plagues our nation. I am always hesitant to answer the question because of how complex and multilayered the problem is. We have street gun violence that is driven by drugs, gangs, social media conflicts and criminal activity. We have mass shootings that are driven by mental health issues, hopelessness and racial bigotry. We have domestic violence and interpersonal conflict violence. What saddens me is that the daily street violence does not get the same attention from the national media and elected officials as mass shootings in schools do, even though hundreds of children and youth of color have been killed by urban violence every year for the last 50 years.

There are several things we must do to dramatically reduce the level of gun-related violence in our nation. In my opinion, we must address the easy access to illegal assault rifles and firearms by youth and felons through the underground economy. This is what is leading to much of the senseless gun violence we are seeing in urban areas across the country. Second, we must have stronger gun control laws nationally that prevent someone with mental health issues from purchasing an assault rifle or firearms. Third, we must develop partnerships between clergy, OGs (the “original gangsters” who have been on the streets), and law enforcement partnerships to do an intervention, prevention and enforcement strategy in urban areas to help reduce the high levels of gun violence that disproportionately impact young men of color.

Clergy, OGs and law enforcement must now also monitor social media sites, which young people use to engage each other in conflict. This will help us interrupt future acts of violence. Fourth, we must fix our broken judicial systems to stop the catch-and-release of repeat violent offenders back on the streets with no accountability. Too often these repeat violent offenders become the next suspect or victim of a violent crime.

Finally, we must restore the moral compass of this nation. We must restore God and faith. We must rebuild families and the village to help raise our children. We need more fathers to be positive role models in the lives of their sons and daughters. We need fathers to teach their sons and daughters how to handle their conflicts in a healthy and non-violent way. We need the community to help our young people see their value and reach their God-given destiny and purpose in life.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” America, the time is right for us to put our differences aside, find common ground together and end this nightmare of senseless violence in our nation.•

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Harrison is the senior pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church and a co-founder of the Indianapolis TenPoint Coalition. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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