Prosecutors can help end gun violence in America

And we can’t afford to wait.

At least 30 Americans will be murdered with guns today, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Next year, firearms will injure or kill 10,000 American teenagers, and the gun homicide rate in the United States will be at least seven times higher than that of any other developed nation.

Gun violence isn’t merely a criminal justice issue. It’s a crisis of national public health and safety.

The national dimension of the crisis cannot be understated. According to the most recent available trace data, nine out of ten guns used in New York crimes come from outside of the state. In California, it’s more than one in four. This is the very picture of a national public health emergency – with illegal firearms permeating state and local borders like pathogens of infectious disease.

This fall marks the launch of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, an independent, non-partisan coalition working toward prosecutorial and policy solutions to the national public emergency of gun violence. Our growing coalition includes 23 prosecutors of varied political backgrounds, representing diverse jurisdictions throughout the United States.

Next week, we are convening the first-ever prosecutorial summit on gun violence prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. Our agenda is to gather intelligence and create new, multi-jurisdictional collaborations to shut down the gangs, traffickers, and domestic abusers driving the crisis.

We know that few topics in our public discourse are more polarizing and rancorous than guns. But as prosecutors, we confront the consequences of this ideological stalemate every day. And as prosecutors, we can help contain this crisis.

We can augment the enforcement of existing federal law. We can export state and local rules that are working to other states and localities. We can do more in our communities to understand and treat mental illness. We can make our schools safer, and we can break the fatal link between gun violence and domestic abuse.

We call upon all prosecutors to join us, no matter their political beliefs. Treating a public health and safety crisis requires coordinated, multi-disciplinary action from a wide swath of the American community. And it requires all of us – doctors and educators, parents and advocates, police and prosecutors – to be those things first. We cannot combat an intractable public health problem as Democrats or as Republicans.

Thirty years ago, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, introduced the Minimum Drinking Age Act into Congress. Twelve weeks later, he stood in the Rose Garden as President Reagan signed it into law.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg and others look on as President Reagan signs the Minimum Drinking Age Act into law on July 17, 1984. Photo: Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

That law – which incentivizes states to maintain a legal drinking age of 21 – has saved more than 900 lives every year since its passage, according to the National Traffic Highway Administration. In 1982, we lost 5,244 teenagers to alcohol-related traffic fatalities. By 2008, we cut that number to 1,987.

As a nation, we took steps to contain the public health and safety crisis of drunk driving. It wasn’t because we took cars away from law-abiding drivers. It wasn’t because one ideology triumphed over another. It was because we proceeded with a singular focus on the only thing that really matters in a national crisis – reducing the number of American lives lost.

Prosecutors, by and large, are not ideologues. We protect and we serve. We enforce the law. We strive to ensure public safety and fairness for all who come before the court. Collectively, we have decades of experience leveraging prosecutorial strategies and community partnerships to reclaim our communities from the bloodshed wrought by illegal guns. Prosecutors Against Gun Violence will provide a framework to share and implement those strategies nationwide.

Gun violence is not the first American public health and safety crisis. It’s just the only one to be left untreated for so long. Through our new coalition, prosecutors will advance prosecutorial and policy solutions – just as we do every day in court.

In the face of a crisis claiming 30 American lives each day, we can’t afford to wait.

Prosecutors Against Gun Violence is founded and co-chaired by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.

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