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Your View: What we need to end gun violence

Katarah Jordan, director of James Lawson Freedom School, leads a chant during a 2023 walk in Allentown to raise awareness about gun violence and the impact it has on youth. (Amy Shortell/첥Ƶ)
Katarah Jordan, director of James Lawson Freedom School, leads a chant during a 2023 walk in Allentown to raise awareness about gun violence and the impact it has on youth. (Amy Shortell/첥Ƶ)
Author

As 2023 concluded, our community bore witness to yet another year tainted by the specter of gun violence, and regrettably, the dawn of 2024 echoed the same grim narrative.

The imperative solution, though seemingly straightforward, eludes us: Stop shooting people. However, beneath this overarching challenge lies a complex interplay of societal ills and individual struggles.

Gun violence is not an isolated act but rather symptomatic of systemic issues. Factors such as hopelessness, easy access to firearms and a series of poor choices or associations intertwine to breed the surge of gun-related incidents that marred 2023. Domestic and interpersonal conflicts fueled much of this violence, stemming from stress, inadequate coping mechanisms and a pervasive sense of despair.

Hasshan Batts, director of Promise Neighborhoods, stands outside his office Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023, in Allentown. Batts spent two weeks in solitary confinement in Carbon County jail during the '90s. (Rick Kintzel/첥Ƶ)
Hasshan Batts

The path toward resolution necessitates a multifaceted approach.

Primarily, cultivating hope amid adversity is paramount.

Empowering individuals to believe in the possibility of improvement and fostering a robust sense of belonging within communities are vital steps. Surrounding individuals with positive influences who prioritize healthy decisions and advocate for conflict resolution skills can significantly impact the reduction of violence.

While the seemingly easy answer to ending gun violence might be a straightforward plea to cease shooting, the reality is far more intricate. Uncomfortable dialogues must be initiated, and decisive actions taken, such as removing firearms from individuals demonstrating an imminent threat to themselves or others.

But above all, it necessitates active and compassionate listening when someone signals a risk to themselves or others.

At the core of this solution lies what I term “the critical questions”: “Are you safe?” “How are you?” “How are you, really?” “How can I help?”

Genuine care, community building, responsible gun ownership and the proactive removal of firearms from those posing threats are pivotal steps that can precipitate a decline in gun violence.

It’s incumbent upon us all to do and be more. Alarmingly, gun violence stands as the leading cause of death among American children. Yet, it’s not primarily the boogeyman of a gang member that endangers our youth; it’s an accidental shooting stemming from children playing with a firearm, an abusive partner, or a friend in excruciating pain who takes their own life.

Ending gun violence mandates a collective effort. It demands a blend of empathy, proactive intervention, and community-building initiatives. It necessitates a commitment to addressing the systemic issues that nurture violence while concurrently fostering environments conducive to healing, support, and responsible gun ownership.

As we step into 2024, let us embark on this journey to end gun violence, armed not with weapons but with empathy, understanding, and unwavering determination to protect lives and build safer communities.

Furthermore, in our local context, the commendable efforts of anti-gun violence programs and community credible messengers have resulted in a marked decrease in youth gun violence and gang-related or retaliatory incidents. However, a concerning trend persists as interpersonal violence among adults, exemplified by road rage and domestic violence, continues to rise. This shift necessitates a reevaluation of our strategies and a renewed emphasis on changing community norms.

To address this concerning uptick in adult interpersonal violence, collaboration and creation of solutions between government, corporations and nonprofits, all driven by community involvement, are imperative. By fostering partnerships that leverage resources and expertise from these sectors, we can implement comprehensive programs that emphasize conflict resolution, stress management and problem-solving skills among adults.

The fight against gun violence requires a holistic, communitywide approach that acknowledges its systemic roots and individual complexities. The success we’ve seen in curbing youth violence should inspire us to increase our efforts in tackling the new challenges posed by adult interpersonal violence. Through collaborative, community-driven initiatives, we can strive to create a society where empathy and understanding prevail over the grim specter of gun violence.

Gun violence is keeping our community sick. Our mantra for 2023 was “we are each other’s medicine.” In 2024, it’s time to take a double dose of authentic healing relationships and care.

Hasshan Batts is the director of Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley.

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