The National Black United Front Official Testimony to the Washington DC City Council Public Hearing on Bill 22-0588 - Possession of Firearm and Ammunition Penalties Amendment Act of 2017
Thursday, March 22,2018,11:00 a.m. Room 500, John A. Wilson Building 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20004
The members and supporters of the National Black United Front (NBUF) give their condolences to all families that have experienced the loss of loved ones due to unnecessary gun violence. We are even more saddened by the internal gun violence within the Black community, because this has had a direct impact on members of our organization. It is tragic when someone’s life is taken by the senseless, reckless use of illegal firearms--no one deserves this fate. Again, NBUF offers heartfelt thoughts and condolences to those families and victims of gun violence. As a result of these tragedies, there is a justified high level of emotion and a sense of mourning throughout our communities. In cities across the country, and even at the federal level, activists and politicians are calling for a change in gun laws and increased penalties for violation of said laws. While the National Black United Front encourages its members to follow all local, state and federal laws regarding firearms, we do not believe that changing laws or establishing stronger penalties is a sufficient answer to the crisis of gun violence. These measures reflect a shortsighted response to a complex social issue.
According to a February 2018 article in the NY Times, over the past 84 years, the following firearms legislation has been enacted:
The National Firearms Act of 1934 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after high-profile gangland crimes, including the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 that killed seven in Chicago..
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 further amended the 1968 law: It required gun purchasers not already licensed to possess a firearm to undergo background checks when buying from sellers licensed by the federal government. However, private transactions were exempted, creating the gun-show loophole.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 banned the possession, transfer or domestic manufacturing of some semiautomatic assault weapons for 10 years. Known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, it expired in 2004, despite efforts by gun control advocates to extend it.
In 2008, Congress passed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act after a shooting at Virginia Tech a year earlier had killed 33.
As one can see, this is not a new issue. Historically speaking, neither increasing penalties nor making it more difficult to obtain a weapon have curtailed mass shootings, and none of these policies have made communities more safe, in general. It is far more likely that amending this bill to increase penalties will have an adverse impact on Washington DC’s Black community, similar to that which we have already seen in the “War on Drugs.”
According to the data published by the DC Department of Corrections between 2016 - 2017, 89 percent of the inmates in Washington DC’s Department of Corrections are Black, while only 47 percent of Washington DC’s population is Black. The National Black United Front contends that this disproportionate ratio is a direct result of racially biased policing practices such as “stop and frisk,” “ jump outs,” and racial profiling, in addition to aftermath of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program, and the white supremacist underpinnings of these carceral institutions. Amending the bill to increase penalties will only serve to further entrench Black and Latino people in the criminal justice system. It will become yet another barrier to the timely and successful re-integration of Black and Latino former offenders back into mainstream society. Crime in the Black community is not linked to lack of gun control. It is linked to inadequate resources related to housing, education, health, financial stability and overall quality of life.
In April of 2016, the Washington Post published an article stating that high levels of lead are linked to brain damage and developmental problems, including impulsive behavior, poor language skills and trouble retaining new information. Two of the three schools found to have high levels of lead, were in predominantly Black communities.
In January of 2017 the Washington City Paper published an article discussing the lack of quality grocery stores, food deserts, in the larger Black communities of Washington DC. The article stated that a lack of access to quality food choices, increases the rate of poor nutrition of residents. This will in turn lead to poor mental and behavioral health, which is directly connected to increased crime.
In April of 2018, the Washington Post published an article about Anacostia High School teachers and students walking out and canceling classes due to not having operational toilets. Anacostia High School, which is located in the Black community, where nine out of ten students are considered at risk. Additionally, 40 percent of the students receive some form of special education, are in a wheelchair or require assistance in using the restroom. Not having access to quality education can lead to higher rates of incarceration as well.
The above social issues have been cited because they all are key factors as to why 89 percent of the DC Department of Corrections inmate population are Black people. NBUF believes that the most effective approach to cutting down crime in D.C. would be to direct more legislative resources towards the above stated issues, rather than increased policing and harsher penalties. Furthermore, it is unlikely that these proposed amendments will deter crime, simply because many DC residents will be unaware of them. It is for all of these reasons that we vote no to the amendments of increased penalties set forth in Bill 22-0588.
Forward Ever, Backwards Never Central Committee National Black United Front