There is one major issue that politicians are not addressing when it comes to gun violence: the environment. Gun violence is not just a social issue it is an environmental issue. The environment, where children live, play, and grow consistently contradicts with the notion to curtail gun violence. Most gun violence occurs in poverty stricken neighborhoods where there is a lack of adequate housing, schools, or jobs. Raising a family in these neighborhoods can be challenging, especially if your view consists of abandoned buildings, vacant lots, and empty store fronts. How can children see opportunity where there is anger, lack, hopelessness, and death?
We have an environmental survey challenge for you. Take a drive down Chicago Ave from Michigan Ave. to Cicero. Make sure that you have a pen and paper handy. What surprised you? What do you see as potential issues here? You will most likely conclude that there was definitely a change in scenery from riches to rags. Why are we investing money in certain neighborhoods and not others? In less than 20 minutes, you traveled from Tiffany’s to a Liquor store on a desolate corner. These neighborhoods receive little attention from the government to rehabilitate and revitalize.
For many families in these neighborhoods, the daily struggle is survival. Basic human survival means that you need food, shelter, and water. Unfortunately, those basic needs force people to do whatever it takes, even kill. According to the Huff Post Chicago, in 2012, 80% of homicides in Chicago were a result of gang violence. Eighty-Percent of victims were African American. How can you decrease gun violence when the unemployment rate is at 7.8% and public schools are closing at such an alarming rate?
So, can we curtail gun violence by providing support and resources within these communities? We would like to recognize that there are a number of organizations that help, but there is more work to be done. Although there is discussion around banning assault weapons, high capacity machines, and stricter background checks, we also need to focus on cleaning up neighborhoods and increasing opportunity.
First, a major program should be considered in conjunction with city and federal law that addresses “City Revitalization”. We should create a federal program where funds can be invested in cleaning up neighborhoods. For example, we have hundreds of abandoned buildings on the South and West sides of Chicago. A lot of these abandoned buildings are being re-purposed for illegal activity. There should be an ongoing program to transition vacant buildings into low income housing or demolish and replace vacant lots with community centers, churches, parks, etc. The police often complain about lack of cooperation from the residents. If we show the residents that we care about their neighborhoods, cooperation will increase. Secondly, there should be some form of a “Family Relocation Program”. We need to offer families the means to transition out of these neighborhoods before their children fall prey to the streets.
In conclusion, Malcolm Gladwell’s book: “The Tipping Point”, addresses societal issues and what is needed to shift the needle; “If you want to bring a fundamental change in people's belief and behavior...you need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured (Gladwell, 2000).” Focusing on the environment will decrease gun violence. Continuing to ignore the root of the problem will compound the gun violence issue.