The Safer Communities Act arrived with high expectations.
“It’s about the most fundamental of things, the lives of our children, our loved ones,” said President Joe Biden at a White House ceremony Monday.
The first national, bipartisan gun violence law in 30 years, the measure includes many provisions, including funding for states to set up their own red flag laws, which Florida already did in 2018; tighter background checks for those under 21, and money for school safety and mental health programs.
However, the vast majority of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides or almost daily homicides, not mass shootings. Under that reality, skeptics say the Safer Communities Act is not designed to stop street-level shootings.
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“Until we enforce laws and mandate things for 16 to 17-year-olds that’s going around killing our kids, we haven’t taken a step forward at all,” said Tangela Sears, founder of the advocacy group, Florida Parents of Murdered Children.
Sears got involved with gun safety advocacy when her son was shot and killed seven years ago. She supports the new law but says it will not have much impact on the violence plaguing her community.
“A background check doesn’t do anything in my community," Sears said. "The people that’s toting guns and killing people, they do not go to the gun shows, they do not go and get a gun legally by doing a background search — these people steal guns, so we need things put in place for the kids in our community."
“The guns that are out there on the streets right now, they’re breaking into cars, you’re seeing cars broken into where guns are being stolen," added Steadman Stahl, president of Miami-Dade’s Police Benevolent Association. "These kids have the guns. There’s gotta be tough penalties if you get caught with a stolen gun."
Stahl supports the new law as well.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction," Stahl said. "I don’t know how quick we’re gonna see it on the street level — I don’t think it’s gonna be like flipping a light switch."
Sears and Stahl each say judges and prosecutors need to treat gun offenders as harshly as possible.
“We already have some great laws on the books, we have to get ‘em enforced, we have that 10-20-life, that has to start being enforced,"Stahl said. "We have to start making examples of people that go astray."
“And we need judges not to say he’s young because he’s 19, so he shouldn’t be in jail, he killed somebody, he needs to be in jail,” added Sears.
“And so we have to be in this as a partnership. If you want us to take the guns off the street, you’ve got to support us, see something, say something,” Stahl said.
Breaking through the “snitches get stitches” mentality is crucial, they say, to put bad guys in prison.
“And allow these families to know they can share information without the information being public, that’s important that they know that because there is a fear when it comes to witnesses, but we have protections in place for them, we need that known to the public,” Sears said.
Stahl also pointed out that the mental health provisions in the law will eventually pay dividends, saying hopefully, schools will be able to identify kids who are showing troubling behaviors and give them the services to turn them around before they turn to violence.