“Gun violence plays such a large role in my life because I always fear when my next friend is going to die or if I will ever make it home in one piece,” says 19-year-old Amy Chen of Philadelphia. Amy’s experience is not uncommon, and is reflective of the experiences of young people around the country who live surrounded by violence, constantly worrying if they’ll live to see another day. One cannot hide from the reality that gun violence is at an all-time high nationwide. As Americans, we are constantly bombarded with the staggering homicide rates that occur in metropolitan cities across the country.
Each time I hear of an incident of gun violence, I think of the ease with which unlicensed individuals gain access to firearms. Moreover, firearms are the cause of death for nine out of 10 African Americans between the ages of 15 to 24 who were homicide victims, and homicide continues to be the leading cause of death among young African American men. Statistics like this are why I struggle with the fact that these incidents in urban communities are often left out of important conversations about gun violence prevention, especially around policy solutions. When laws are passed at the federal and local level, the solutions should create change for all people affected by gun violence. The voices and needs of communities of color need to be kept at the forefront of conversations around armed violence and trafficking.
When discussing the factors and solutions of gun violence, the conversation must address trafficking. It is very difficult to track and stop illegally trafficked firearms because of numerous loopholes. Amy explained: “It is easy for young people to obtain guns. Most of my friends or peers will buy them off the street because there are not strict laws that protect people from guns or laws that prevent people from getting access to guns.” As Amy says, it is still too easy for young people and unlicensed individuals to gain access to weapons. However, there are actions that can be taken to decrease trafficking, which starts by narrowing the channels of distribution.
States like Pennsylvania are beginning to take a stand with laws like the Brad Fox Bill, which was passed after Officer Bradley Fox was killed in the line of duty by a gun obtained through a straw purchase. This law adds a mandatory sentence of five years for any straw purchaser who makes multiple straw purchases. In addition, House Bill 1020, currently being heard in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, proposes mandatory reporting of all lost or stolen firearms. Both of these laws are a step in the right direction to tighten up the current loopholes and decrease the flow of guns into our communities.
There is no easy way to end an endemic problem like gun violence. However, to interrupt the cycle of arms trafficking and violence, the gun violence prevention movement must take a holistic approach. Advocates must push for solutions that not only prevent mass shootings, but also listen to the needs of every community facing armed violence on a daily basis. This means looking to solutions beyond stronger gun laws. It means advocating for the financial resources—for violence prevention programs, for after school and childcare programs, for access to healthcare, for stable housing resources—to address the systemic issues at play, so all of our communities are protected.
The article originally appeared on Generation Progress.