Mayors of big cities across the United States – including Cincinnati – are pleading with state and federal officials to finally address the onslaught of gun violence throughout the country.
Just days after yet another violent shooting, officials met at the annual United States Conference of Mayors in Reno to determine what, if anything, could be done about the massacres. But one of the big problems, they say, is that state leaders – particularly in Republican-controlled states like Ohio – prevent even modest gun-control or violence-reduction proposals from going to a vote or even getting discussion or they actively pass measures that block local governments from passing their own safety laws.
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval has been in Reno for the conference, which ran June 3-6.
"We're doing everything we can at the local level, partnering with the Department of Justice, ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), and the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] with our local law enforcement to prevent the importation of illegal guns," Pureval tells Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition, in an interview released June 7. "But the fact of the matter is there are now more guns than people in our country, and it's creating an arms race where people don't feel safe unless they have a gun. So guns beget more guns, which unfortunately makes us all unsafe."
A rise in gun ownership and violence
In 2000, there were three active-shooter, multiple-victim incidents in the United States. In 2020, there were 40, data shows. And in 2020, firearms were the leading cause of death for children throughout the nation, research shows.
Small Arms Survey, a research project in Switzerland, estimates that there are 390 million guns circulating around the globe. It also estimates that the United States has about 120.5 firearms per 100 residents. Yes, the United States has more guns than people. The country next on the list is conflict-ridden Yemen, which has "just" 52.8 firearms per 100 people.
Gun murders continue to climb throughout the United States. "The 19,384 gun murders that took place in 2020 were the most since at least 1968, exceeding the previous peak of 18,253 recorded by the CDC in 1993. The 2020 total represented a 34% increase from the year before, a 49% increase over five years and a 75% increase over 10 years," Pew Research Center says. Research from Johns Hopkins University backs that up. And BBC reports via CDC research that 79% of homicides in the United States in 2020 were performed with guns. That's again higher than anywhere else in the world, with Canada at 37% and Australia at 13%.
In Ohio, nearly 1,800 residents died via firearms in 2021 – almost as many as in 2020, the state's reigning record year.
"We are not powerless"
Citing Cincinnati's new program that sends mental health professionals and paramedics instead of police to certain types of non-violent 911 calls as well as the Cincinnati Police Department's new Crime Gun Intelligence Center, Pureval says leaders in the Queen City and others are trying to find solutions to mass violence but feel stymied.
"We are not powerless to do anything about gun violence," Prevail tells Inskeep. "But when we're talking specifically gun control, local leaders are preempted by their state houses or by the federal government and really don't have very many tools to manage the accessibility of guns."
Research by the New York Times shows that a number of mass shootings could have been prevented or caused fewer deaths and injuries had better laws and background checks been in place in states and federally.
On the federal level, Democrats and Republican Senators have been discussing how to control access to weapons – or at least to better understand who is buying them – but Republicans have indicated they're not interested in raising the age at which someone can buy a firearm. Currently, 18-year-olds can legally purchase "long guns" like rifles, while they must wait until age 21 to buy handguns. But many rules go out the window when it comes to purchases at gun shows or from family.
Ohio, Republicans recently passed a bill that would allow boards of education to permit teachers to carry firearms in schools. Gov. Mike DeWine has indicated that he approves the measure and will sign it, even though teachers overwhelmingly are against it, particularly in schools with large populations of non-white students. Teachers also are concerned about being able to safely store the guns and for the potential for even more violence on campus.
DeWine has repeatedly supported gun protections.
"In 2019, an hour north of here in Dayton, Ohio, a gunman opened fire and in 32 seconds murdered nine people and injured 27. It was a shocking tragedy of gun violence. At that time, leaders from the state, from the federal government came to Dayton and promised action," Pureval says. "But in the three years since the tragedy in Dayton, not only have our state leaders signed into law a permitless concealed carry law in opposition of law enforcement, but also have signed "Stand Your Ground" and also now is on the verge of passing a resolution which would create more guns in our schools by arming our teachers. Instead of doing something about gun violence, unfortunately our state leaders have taken us in the opposite direction."
Dayton Mayor Jeffrey J. Mims Jr. remembers the massacre in his city well. In a June 6 article from the New York Times, Mims – who, like Pureval, had attended the Conference of Mayors and is a Democrat – says that he had hoped things would change after DeWine and other leaders visited Dayton and saw the community pleading for action. He remembers DeWine proposing a "red flag bill" that would allow police to take guns from owners who are deemed "dangerous."
"We say, OK, maybe this will make a difference so these folks will not have died in vain," Mims tells New York Times writer Mitch Smith.
But Ohio Republicans did not pass the law, and DeWine dropped the issue.
Nan Whaley, who was Dayton's mayor at the time of the shooting and is now running against DeWine for Ohio's governor seat, recently told CityBeat that DeWine has not taken any action.
"Mike DeWine is afraid of extremists, is unwilling to do what needs to be done to keep communities safe," Whaley says. "Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when’ this [mass shootings] happens again in Ohio. Mike DeWine can give his thoughts and prayers and put the flag at half-staff and do all kinds of bullshit action, but the fact of the matter is, when it was time to do something, he cowardly went to the back and let extremists run the state."
A focus on gun access
Pureval says that throughout the country, the main issues are "universal accessibility" to guns and "the inability to resolve differences peacefully" and that Ohio lawmakers are not addressing those.
"All of the measures in Columbus are doing nothing to mitigate or interrupt the accessibility of guns, but rather making access to guns more [easy]. So there is a fundamental disconnect between the problem on our streets and the solutions being advocated at the federal and state level," Pureval says.
Pureval says mayors are taking action locally, but U.S. Senators need to address the issue as a country. Comparatively, the United States' northern neighbor Canada is moving toward a ban on importing, buying or selling guns.
"The situation is as serious as it can be. It's not just Cincinnati; it's a challenge all across our country, which is why we are so in desperate need of federal action," he tells NPR. "Mayors across the country just met at the U.S. Conference of Mayors – Republicans and Democrats – 250 of us in the United States are pleading that the Senate does something to start mitigating this problem."
"I am optimistic that at a certain point, people are going to look around and be shocked into action,” tells he New York Times. "I’m surprised we’re not there yet."