The Scourge of Illegal Guns

Local businesses chipped in and almost $200,000 later he was able to get 897 guns off the streets in three weekends. He also instituted an 11 p.m. curfew for residents and businesses in parts of the city that had higher incidents of violent crime.

Residents and businesses complained. When Jersey City passed municipal ordinances limiting the purchase of one hand gun per month and requiring lost or stolen guns to be reported missing within 48 hours, the NRA called the laws unconstitutional.

Within two years, violent crime in Jersey City dropped significantly. At the end of 2005 there were 38 homicides and 1,643 robberies and that fell to 22 homicides and 1,553 robberies in 2006. This year though in August, the city recorded 11 homicides and 782 robberies.

Despite his progress, Healy insists federal legislation needs to be tougher. "The issue of illegal guns is a federal plague that needs a federal cure, because in states that aren't tough on gun control, you can basically sell and buy guns wherever you want," he said. "We are not targeting hunters, gun collectors, target shooters or sportsmen. We want to take on illegal guns and the people who have them."

Culture of Violence

But tougher laws are only part of the solution, the mayor said. Other tools include violence prevention services and outreach programs to combat gang violence. Since 2004, 523 gang members have been arrested and 150 guns from gangs seized, in addition to a gang database established to identify national and local gangs and members.

Former Massachusetts Health Commissioner and Harvard University professor of Public Health Deborah Prothrow-Stith concurs that federal action is needed to stem gun violence. In her book "Murder Is No Accident," she writes, "The right to carry hand guns is a wrong. The Second Amendment, which is always evoked when gun sale regulation is considered, speaks to the rights of states to maintain militias. Most people seem not to know this, primarily as a result of the extensive and effective campaign of misinformation carried out for decades by gun lobbyists like the National Rifle Association."

Stith points out that "every day, 90 people die from gunshot wounds in the U.S., including four to six juveniles. In 1995, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention dedicated $2.6 million to conduct research on gun related injuries, compared with $800 million for research on automobile safety."

"Violence is deep-seated in the American culture. [It] dates back to Alexander Hamilton, who signed the Constitution. In 1804, Hamilton was killed in a duel against Vice President Aaron Burr in the same spot, in Hoboken, N.J., where his son had died in a duel three years earlier. Hamilton struggled over accepting the challenge. Dueling was illegal. It was against the Christian creed, and he bore Burr no ill will but yet felt compelled to accept the challenge. Both duels and urban violence grow out of minor disputes and serve as an alternative form of justice for those who do not see law enforcement as an option," she writes.

James Hernandez, who spent 15 years as a gang member and 15 years as a violence prevention counselor in the San Francisco Bay area, knows firsthand how intense the pressure is to not back down. His brother died in his arms from wounds caused by a gang fight.

Hernandez described how the availability of illegal guns, fueled with hatred, can make a minor situation erupt into something lethal and tragic. "Gun and gang violence is spreading everywhere, the suburbs, even in rural areas and Indian reservations. No one is immune to it. Kids join gangs because they know someone already in the gang. No one is a stranger, and it is instant status. My job is to keep resentment down, because combined with the availability of illegal guns, it's deadly."

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