Make Oakland Better Now! was an early proponent of Ceasefire, the program that significantly reduced the number of Oakland homicides from a high of 126 homicides in 2012 to a low of 71 in 2017. But now, for the second year in a row, Oakland homicides are up to much higher levels. There were a total of 133 homicides in 2021, and this year the number of homicides to date is now more than last year at this time. Oakland police statistics show, as of Sept 11, 85 homicides to date compared with 83 last year. So there will probably be even more homicides this year than last, in spite of all the efforts of Ceasefire and the various crime prevention programs.
What is happening?
There are no simple answers to the problem of gun violence, and certainly the terrible life situations of those who perpetrate and/or are victims of violence is a root cause. And without Ceasefire it could easily be worse still. Across the US we have seen gun violence increase to horrific levels. The reason most often given is that this is because there are more guns. Huge numbers of guns were bought during the pandemic. This is true in Oakland as well: OPD Chief Armstrong, in addressing the recent (thankfully, non-fatal) shooting of a 13 year old by a 12 year old said that there are just too many guns. This is borne out by research: Dr. Garen Wintemute, the director of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, says “it’s a well-founded statement to say that on the whole, at the population level, whether we’re looking at societies or at individual outcomes, access to firearms is associated with an increase in firearm violence” Dr. Wintemute also documents the increase in gun sales in this article.
The reason that people buy guns is that they think guns make them safer. Note that the two Oakland mayoral candidates who were each arrested for brandishing guns each said they did so because they felt afraid. But in fact, guns do not make a person safer: study after study have shown that having a gun leads to more homicides and suicides, not less.
What can we do?
We need to continue to support Ceasefire, to keep things from getting any worse. And we need good public health campaigns to get people to give up their guns. David Hemenway, in the book “Private Guns, Public Health” advocates that what is needed is a public health campaign similar to previous public health anti-smoking campaigns. In Oakland, a small step in such a campaign was made with the first gun buyback event in Oakland in 10 years. Make Oakland Better Now! was a sponsor of this event, which is a beginning in the long process of convincing people that guns are not good for them. Oakland groups are taking a stand against gun violence: Faith in Action – East Bay is sponsoring a Night Walk on September 16th to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ceasefire night walks, and Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere is sponsoring a Stand In at 14th & Broadway at 11AM September 17 to stand for those who have lost their lives due to gun violence, and to demand that we “get those guns off our streets”. Governor Newsom has allocated $25M for gun buybacks in the 2022-2023 California State Budget. These are all necessary steps to eventually change the gun culture and stop the homicides.