Homicides might have dipped slightly, but gun violence is up across Pittsburgh this summer | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Homicides might have dipped slightly, but gun violence is up across Pittsburgh this summer

“We have some portions of our city that are very volatile relative to gun violence.”

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Another new police initiative is actually an old one. Under the banner of the Group Violence Intervention Strategy, the bureau is working to implement David Kennedy’s violence-reduction model, which first came to Pittsburgh in 2008, under the name the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime.

“You have to reach people in a different manner and convince them not to arm themselves,” says Scirotto. “Trying to convince the youth or those involved in group violence to allow the police to do our part and be your protectors is a very difficult task.” 

Right now, the bureau is in the first phase of the program, where it is identifying violent groups throughout the city. The next step will be reaching out to those groups. 

“It seems like there are longstanding feuds that may even go back two or three years,” says Scirotto. “Those longstanding feuds — that there’s no profit for the murder, there’s really no territorial advantage gained by the murder. It’s purely because one of your associates shot one of my associates, and now the retaliation leads me to you or one of your associates.”

Scirotto says that gun control or creating harsher gun laws is not the key to tamping down on illegal gun-trafficking. Instead, he says, the justice system needs to enforce harsher sentences for those who violate existing firearms laws.

“It seems like it is not very difficult to obtain a firearm in urban America, or anywhere for that matter,” says Scirotto. “Our victims or actors of gun violence, how many times have they been through the criminal-justice system? Fear is a great motivator, and if you’re not afraid of being detained, or incarceration for a firearms possession, soon enough they learn that there’s really no penalty for possessing a gun.”

But others argue that local governments can help address gun violence by crafting legislation to address the illegal sale and trade of firearms. 

 “My focus has always been that if the gun isn’t available, perhaps we would buy [perpetrators] an extra 20 or 30 seconds to resolve that conflict,” says Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus. “Guns are so readily available, I believe that’s where my efforts should be focused. To protect its citizenry is the first call of local government.”

And Kraus believes he took a step to protect the citizens of Pittsburgh when he helped pass an ordinance that requires gun-owners to report when their firearms are lost or stolen. However, the law has yet to be enforced: The mayor’s office has said that it fears a lawsuit because, according to state law, local municipalities are not allowed to regulate gun ownership.

“My argument is that when the firearm is not possessed legally, then we do have directive over it on a local level,” says Kraus. “If a handgun has been stolen or sold on the black market, it is not legal.”

Gun-control advocacy group CeaseFirePA has long supported lost-and-stolen-gun legislation as a method for reducing gun violence.

 “When a police officer traces a firearm back to the last lawful gun-owner, they usually say it was lost or stolen. They say, ‘We have no idea how it got into the hand of someone who killed someone,’” says Rob Conroy, director of organizing for CeaseFirePA. “This way, at least, the police can file a summary charge against them.” 

CeaseFirePA is currently fighting for a statewide lost-and-stolen law. It’s also supporting a state bill implementing background checks in gun sales that has already begun circulating.

“We at CeaseFirePA and any of us in the gun-violence prevention movement make no claims that there is one hard-and-fast solution. But we’re pushing for the same solutions we’ve been pushing for for the past several years,” says Conroy. “The number of homicides this summer has been completely insane.”

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