America's ongoing struggle to get gun crime under control

Dylann Roof is accused of killing nine people in a racially-motivated attack in Charleston, South Carolina. Credit: Reuters

By Matt Williams: News Editor for ITV News

In the aftermath of the Charleston massacre President Obama took to the podium in the White House flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and addressed yet another mass shooting that had occurred under his Presidency.

"I've had to make statements like this too many times…..Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun....We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries", he said.

The call for action was a familiar one yet in the month since that tragedy there have been 1,000 murders involving guns in America.

President Obama expressed his 'deep sorrow' over the 'senseless murders' at a church in Charleston. Credit: Reuters

At time of writing,

This works out as an average of 34 people a day being shot dead.

Over time America has become immune to gun crime but by any standards the first half of 2015 has been a particularly violent one leaving residents, law enforcement and politicians all searching for solutions.

Gun crime as a whole across the country is up 12% with the spike in violence particularly bad in some of America’s major cities.

The issue of gun violence and firearms controls has been an ongoing issue in America. Credit: Reuters

Chicago has been no stranger to gun violence in recent history but the little progress which has been made in the past couple of years appears to have been lost for the moment.

By last Sunday at least 135 more people have been shot in the city this year than by the same time in 2015.

Over the course of the July 4th weekend, 82 people were shot in Chicago, 16 of them fatally, leading the City’s Police Chief Garry McCarthy to decry State and Federal attempts to combat the issue, "There has to come a tipping point where this changes", he said.

Milwaukee, which recorded one of its lowest annual murder totals in the city’s history, has seen 84 murders so far this year, more than double the same time last year.

Police chief Edward Flynn said the rising toll is driven by Wisconsin's "absurdly weak" gun laws.

In cities across America, gun crime is up this year. New Orleans, Philadelphia, Washington DC, St Louis, Dallas, San Antonio, Minneapolis, New York, Houston to name a few have all experienced rises.

The explanations vary from city to city but concern is growing that the increase could reflect a perfect storm of issues such as the police’s unwillingness to intervene following on from incidents in Ferguson and beyond. General public distrust in the police, cuts in police budgets and other criminal justice flaws over prosecution of those guilty of carrying and discharging firearms have also been cited as reasons behind the spike.

The shooting of Michael Brown by a white police offer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked mass protests across the US. Credit: Family handout

Baltimore is a city which has had its own unique problems following the death of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old died from injuries sustained in the back of a police van having been detained by police for possession of what they alleged was an illegal switchblade.

What followed was a series of peaceful protests which eventually broke down into public disorder. Calm was restored and 6 officers charged for the part they played in Gray’s death yet in the wake of this unrest Baltimore has suffered its worst violence for 25 years.

As of last night there had been 170 murders in the city with May proving the most violent month since 1990…..thus far July is on course to outstrip it.

Community workers are calling for people to 'stop shooting and start living'. Credit: ITV News

Shootings have been up more than 82 percent in 2015 over the prior year, and murders have been hovering at 50 percent above 2014 level, enough to see the city's police chief Anthony Batts fired.

ITV News filmed on the streets over the weekend that followed, a period in which 26 people were shot in the city, 11 of them fatally.

Police attend the scene of a shooting in the city of Baltimore. Credit: ITV News

Speaking at a press conference on the issue today, interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told ITV News: "The accessibility to firearms in this country is unlike any other country and I think we're seeing that in Baltimore, we're seeing it in other big cities that are experiencing violent crime surges across this country whether it's Philadelphia or Boston or Chicago or elsewhere."

Those who work the streets trying to mediate disputes and prevent more deaths are doing their best to influence the small communities around them amidst the onslaught of gun violence which they describe as “contagious”.

Munir Bahar runs a programme teaching Baltimore youngsters how to take the right path. He sees numerous social and cultural factors playing a part in why young men pick up a gun to solve their disputes blaming a lack of father-figures to the influence of violent films and hip-hop lyrics.

He believe cries for more gun controls fail to address the root cause of the issues, not least that those using guns aren’t the ones who would be affected by such laws.

There’s certainly still little will in Congress to tackle the issue. In the first gun bill considered by Congress since the Charleston church shooting, the House Committee on Appropriations barred the Centres for Disease Control from funding research on gun violence. The bill, which was voted along party lines was shot down 32-19 leading Democrat Congresswoman Nita Lowey to state "preventing research because you worry about the outcome is cowardly".

The endless list of fatalities has led many in the medical world to call for a new approach altogether to the issue, asking for gun violence to be treated as a public health issue.

“I’ve argued that for many years”, says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director for the American Public Health Association. "We're not debating the constitutionality of firearms - that exists. Firearms exist and people get hurt and die from firearms. There are ways for us in a non-political manner to make people safer with their firearms in a society."