For years there has been an assumption that the gun violence in Pittsburgh is fueled by outsiders buying guns and bringing them to city gang members and drug dealers.
A report delivered to the Pittsburgh Community Redevelopment Group Nov. 12 says that isn’t the case—the guns are local.
“It’s not a group of White guys from Ohio with a semi full of weapons,” said Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime Executive Director Jay Gilmer. “More than 90 percent of the guns in the community come from the community or surrounding neighborhoods.”
Gilmer was among those who attended a Nov. 12 presentation on firearms tracking given to the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group given by Pittsburgh police Det. Joe Bielevicz, who is attached to the Pittsburgh office for the US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Also in attendance were CeaseFire PA Regional Director Rob Conroy, and representatives from the Hilltop Alliance, the Perry Hilltop Citizen’s Council, the Dinwiddie Community Alliance, Operation Better Block, East Liberty Concerned Citizens, St. Claire Block Watch and the Greater Park Place Neighborhood Association.
Emily Anderson, PCRG project manager for neighborhood policy said the presentation is valuable to PCRG because gun violence is a huge deterrent to development efforts. So it’s critical for her neighborhood partners to know what they can do to help reduce gun crimes in their neighborhoods.
“Guns don’t kill people—they kill communities,” she said. “A single gunshot fired outside a new store or business can shut down further development for years.”
Anderson said Bielevicz’s presentation was very impressive, in that it “demythified” attitudes about gun trafficking in the city. Among these are data about where the guns are coming from, and who is acquiring them. Of the roughly 1,000 guns recovered by Pittsburgh Police annually, between 700 and 800 are used in some crime—very few are in the possession of the original purchaser.
Theft is one reason, as Bielevicz noted:
•8-10 guns are stolen out of vehicles during every Steeler game, and
•In many cases, the gun thief is associated with the gun owner. Often times, the thief is the owner’s child or the child’s friend. Many thefts are conducted by family members who are addicted to heroin or other hard drugs. Addicts can trade the guns directly for drugs or sell them for drug money.
Naturally, Bielevicz recommends proper storage of guns to deter thieves because in most cases, the gun owner knows the thief. But it is in the area of “straw purchases,” people with clean records buying guns for criminals or juveniles, where most of the myths continue, he said.
“’Outsiders are typically not bringing in guns to neighborhoods. Guns are typically used near where they are registered,” he said. “There are no major trafficking operations bringing guns into the city. In fact, because Pennsylvania has more lenient gun laws, it is much easier to purchase a gun within the state and therefore more likely that guns are being trafficked out of the city to states with more restrictive gun laws.”
Most of the straw purchases are being committed by women, who are associated in some way with the criminals using these guns, he said. But because they are often mothers, they can be reached by appealing to their maternal instincts, as well as their sense of self-respect, the dangers their actions pose to family and community, and the legal consequences—especially in terms barriers to future employment. He said more community outreach and support should be directed toward these women.
Conroy also recommended more political support for stiffer controls on the availability of guns such as those he’s been working on—lost or stolen handgun reporting laws, closing the Florida concealed carry loophole, and a better background checking system—would also reduce gun violence.
Gilmer noted that there has been a 50 percent reduction in gun assaults in the last two years. However, better policing in the city is driving violent groups to communities with fewer resources such as Duquesne and Homestead.
“The best recourse is reporting these shootings,” he said. “No homicide goes unwitnessed. If the police cannot solve a homicide, it’s because no one has come forward.”
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