As the polls closed on Election Day, Tuesday, November 7, 2006, 17-year-old Hakeem Horton died from a gunshot wound to the head on Hamlet Street in Dorchester, Massachusetts. It was Boston’s 66th homicide of the year. Hakeem was one of 55 people in the Boston area that died as a result of a gun shot in 2006. His death also represented the growing needs of a community in crisis.
In 2005, there were 340 victims of shootings in Boston, 50 of whom died. That total represents the city’s highest number of shootings since the height of gang violence in 1996. In 2006, Boston finished the year with 74 homicides, 55 by a gun, only to have the first gun death of 2007 occur six hours into the new year. Greater Boston is at a Code Red with youth gun violence. In the last year, the number of gunfire victims actually tripled.
At the federal level, we have moved in the wrong direction. COPS monies have been slashed and the NRA has successfully protected gun manufacturers and killed the assault weapon ban. Unbelievably, the NRA successfully inserted an amendment in the 2004 federal budget, through Congressman Todd Tiehrt (R-KS) that actually prevents the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) from providing gun tracing data to any local or state law enforcement agency. This NRA-sponsored amendment effectively takes away a major tool of law enforcement to stop the trafficking of illegal guns. But it does more than that: it is the poster-boy for bad laws that stop good police practices because of an overly-powerful special interest lobby.
The real question is how we can get the powers that be motivated to remove these types of barriers. At the state level, there is much that we can do to help police and prosecutors and to promote prevention. Local and state law enforcement entities must have the all tools reasonably available to investigate crimes and cases. There are many tools, including:
Enhancing the gun and licensing registries by allowing database information sharing networks to be utilized by both state and local law enforcement entities;
Targeting low compliance of secondary market sales including facilitating the registrations and enforcing the registration requirements with both buyers and sellers;
With the improved database, begin to charge persons found to sell or “lose” guns to unlicensed persons;
Design interstate compacts with surrounding states to utilize gun registry and ballistics information to circumvent the NRA restrictions on gun tracing data sharing; and
Close the Illegal Gun in the House Loophole so that traffickers are no longer protected because the guns are discovered in their homes or places of business.
These are some commonsense ideas I have found from my research on the gun market and state laws. I will be releasing the full report of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, along with my Committee colleagues, in the coming week. This report will contain the full set of recommendations which will, of course, be posted on the blog.