Oped-George Lambert-001

George H. Lambert, Jr.

Most of us know someone who’s been impacted by gun violence. Maybe it’s a neighbor’s kid who became the unintended victim of a shootout or a drive-by. Maybe it’s an old friend’s nephew who made a bad choice one night, and what might have been a black eye is instead a family tragedy—all because of the easy availability of guns.

Black people, who make up only 13 percent of the population, account for more than half of the gun homicide victims. Here in D.C., 162 murders took place in 2015, compared to 105 the previous year.  There are a lot of explanations for the rise, but I can’t help suspecting that guns have something to do with it. Mayor Muriel Bowser just formed a task force to combat gun robberies, which last year increased to 1,249, 10 percent more than the 1,112 recorded in 2014.

The biggest deterrent to violent crime in many urban areas is a job, but that is a topic for a future article.

Too many guns are too easy to purchase. That fact may not change soon—certainly, not soon enough. But when it comes to doing background checks on people who want to buy a gun, we need a system with greater integrity. President Obama’s recent executive action on guns is designed to patch up a broken system, so that the standard for buying a weapon in a physical store is applied to online sales and gun shows. The law-enforcement system in our country is far from perfect, but I feel it’s important to improve the capability of officials to monitor gun sales.

I also believe we need to prevent people with criminal records and certain mental health issues from getting their hands on lethal weapons. Clearly, we need an aggressive push around mental health education. In the meanwhile, President Obama’s executive action helps the Feds to do a better job of notifying local officials when someone in their community who is prohibited from purchasing a gun attempts to buy one. It’s common sense.

This final year of Barack Obama’s presidency is shaping up to be the most dynamic yet, and his last State of the Union Address was especially stirring. I admire the President’s determination to make progress where he can, given the contentious and challenging policy climate. His executive action on guns is a perfect example. It isn’t revolutionary, but it will save lives. It will save black lives. 

George H. Lambert, Jr. is the President and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League. For more information go to twitter.com/GWUrbanLeague