Letter to the editor: Gun Violence

parsippany focus

parsippany focusDear Editor:

If you’re like me, you were shaken by the news of not one, but two mass shootings in less than 24 hours last weekend – one in El Paso, Texas, where a 21 year old man opened fire inside a Walmart, and one in Dayton, Ohio, where a 24 year old man opened fire in a popular downtown area.

We in Parsippany are fortunate to live in a place where gun violence generally doesn’t reach our radar screens unless tragic events like these make the news. Our children aren’t scared of being shot on their walk to school every day. We can go to the movies or shopping, to our chosen place of worship or out for the evening without fear of not making it home alive.  Many people in our country don’t benefit from such privilege.

As the Director of State Government Affairs for Everytown for Gun Safety (which includes Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America), I watch certain trends play out time and again. I see children unintentionally shooting themselves and other children when an adult fails to responsibly store their firearms. I watch story after story where too-easy access to a gun turns a domestic violence incident deadly. I watch in shock every time the details of a school shooting unfold showing the warning signs the shooter exhibited before committing his horrific act.

The truth is, mass shootings make up less than half a percent of gun violence in our country. And the majority of mass shootings are incidents of domestic violence. You won’t see statistics like that on the news. You won’t see national outlets covering the 7 shootings in Baltimore this weekend, bringing the city’s total homicides this year to 200. The national news won’t be covering the local veteran who died by suicide by gun in a small town like ours. You won’t hear reporters talking about the fact that about twice as many people die in this country every single day from gun violence as died in the 2017 Pulse Nightclub shooting.

We can and should continue to urge our federal lawmakers to pass laws like background checks on all gun sales, but so many solutions to gun violence can and must be generated from state and local leaders. New Jersey has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, but there’s still more we can do locally to keep us all safer.

For starters, we can require that all gun owners responsibly store their firearms. Most school shooters acquired their weapons from their home or that of a friend or relative who failed to store them properly. So far this year, there have been 149 unintentional shootings by children who never should have been able to get their hands on a gun. New Jersey has a law prohibiting child access to guns but does not affirmatively require that all firearms be stored responsibly. We can and should require responsible storage for all gun owners locally to help prevent school shootings and unintentional shootings by and of children.

Next, we can raise awareness, and require notice to Parsippany families of a new state law that takes effect in New Jersey this September called the Extreme Risk Protection Orders Act (ERPO).  ERPOs, sometimes referred to as “Red Flag laws,” allow immediate family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily remove someone’s access to guns if he or she is a danger to themselves or others. This new law, which I imagine few people in Parsippany even know about, allows guns to be taken away from someone who is exhibiting warning signs or who is in crisis. Red Flag laws are proven to be effective at preventing suicide, which accounts for about two thirds of all gun deaths.

Third, we should work with law enforcement, school administrators, and mental health professionals to ensure that they are implementing threat assessment programs in our schools, so that we get involved before a troubled child becomes an active shooter to provide the help, guidance, or intervention necessary to stop a tragedy from occurring. So many of our resources are spent teaching children how to “lock down” in an active shooter situation, rather than working to prevent those incidents from the start. The fact is, if someone gets to the schoolhouse door with a gun, we’ve already failed.

Fourth, we should ensure adequate funding and support for local programs like the Juvenile Accountability Leadership Program (JALP), which operates out of the Parsippany PAL building. JALP provides at risk youth with constructive ways to engage with their community. Local intervention programs are one of the most effective ways to interrupt harmful cycles and set victims and others at risk of committing violence on a better path.

Parsippany is a safe place to live, but there is more we can do to make sure it stays that way.  If elected to the Parsippany Town Council, I will work with Mayor Soriano, our police department, our Board of Education, and the people of Parsippany to ensure that we are doing absolutely everything we can to prevent the types of tragedies we witnessed last weekend from occurring here. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need to elect leaders up and down the ballot who are committed to taking actions that keep everyone in our communities safe from gun violence.

Cori Herbig