Phoenix chief tells Senate resources, reform needed to fight gun violence
Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams urged senators Wednesday to devote more resources to law enforcement agencies to help fight the rising incidents of gun violence among youths.
“We do need responsible gun legislation. We do believe that there should be a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in order for us to properly serve and protect our community,” Williams said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But Williams, who was testifying as president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, added that in addition to “commonsense” gun reforms, funding is also needed to support police departments that are “out-gunned, we’re out-manned, we’re out-staffed.”
The hearing comes as the House and Senate are considering competing gun-reform bills in the wake of a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, that killed 10 people and another at a grade school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers.
The calls for action pushed the House to pass a pair of bills last week on largely party-line votes.
One bill would create a national “red-flag law,” that lets courts order the confiscation of weapons from people who pose a danger to themselves or others. The second includes a number of provisions aimed at curtailing the use of “ghost guns,” tightening gun-trafficking rules, raising the age to buy semiautomatic weapons to 21, restrict large-capacity magazines and more.
Over the weekend, a group of bipartisan senators put forth their own proposal that would encourage states to implement red-flag laws, increase funding for school safety and to themselves and others. It will also fund mental health and school safety programs.
“We’re watching as their futures and their lives vanish. We are losing our kids,” Amy Swearer, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a testimony witness told the committee. “And if we don’t act soon to stem these problems at the source, it won’t just be the kids that we’re losing. We will lose an entire generation of adults as well.”
Senate Committee members, on both sides of the aisle, at Wednesday’s hearing showed support for the senators’ framework and agreed with Williams and other witnesses, but for different elements/attributes.
“We keep having the same vulnerabilities and not fixing them,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told the committee. “Repeatdely I’ve introduced legislation to provide funding to put security equipment on campus. And the most important security tool we can have is armed law enforcement on campus.”
Cruz attributed gun violence to “bad guys” and said the focus should be on criminals, felons and fugitives. Whereas Williams pointed out that guns have become more readily available.
“Guns have flooded our communities, and it has become far too easy for our children to get their hands on them,” Williams said.
According to data from Gun Violence Archive, there has been 680 unintentional shootings so far this year, which is more than double compared to the 311 murder or suicides incidents.
Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said most of the recent gun violence incidents are carried out by untraceable “ghost guns” and assault weapons, on which federal regulations need to be placed.
Furthermore, Padila said he supports the senators’ framework for its focus on mental health solutions.
“After mass shootings – for years and years and years – such a focus on mental health is used to distract from the gun-safety side of the conversation,” Padilla said. “Mental health – could we have prevented this, could we have identified a troubled young person? I get it, but …
“The parents of the children who died are going to need help. The children who survived are going to need help. The teachers who survived are going to need help. The whole community is going to need ongoing help. We need as many resources in all areas.”
Williams will welcome the resources because she said the additional community policing responsibilities can overwhelm current infrastructures in place at local police departments.
“The blue suits, or blue uniforms, or whatever color uniforms officers are wearing are not the right uniform to respond to a mental health crisis,” Williams said. “That’s why communities – churches, faith-based, you name it – we need those resources available to keep the law enforcement officers available and accessible for violent crime issues.”
Williams was joined by four other witnesses, which included a pediatrician, a friend of a gun violence victim, a school safety advocate and a legal expert.
Williams said immediate actions are needed to combat gun violence and stop it at its roots.
“The rise in shootings by juveniles has created a vicious cycle,” Williams said. “Today’s suspect is often tomorrow’s victim and vice versa.