The Constitution grants citizens the right to keep and bear firearms to protect themselves from those who would like to eliminate our rights and freedom by force. Citizen gun rights are almost unique to America, and they should never be infringed. It would weaken our basic sovereignty, freedom and domestic security. Nonetheless, in a free society like ours, it is both practical and necessary for citizens to voluntarily give up a small amount of our liberty for the purposes of maintaining public order and safety.

That is why we have laws prohibiting the use of guns to assault, kill, rob or threaten others, and it is a crime to possess guns for those purposes.

By themselves, guns are not a violence problem. In fact, blaming guns for violence is like blaming pencils for committing spelling errors. Guns don’t have minds of their own, but the criminals who possess and use them do. Criminals are unstable and dangerous and the more of them that roam our streets with illegal guns, the more violent and lethal our society becomes.

Our ability to prevent illegal gun possession and therefore violence begins at the federal level with the men and women of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). While avoiding most of the political gun debate, they labor daily to fight illegal gun trafficking, gun smuggling, straw purchases of guns, ghost guns and guns used in all manners of crimes. They trace stolen guns and investigate illegal gun possession, including guns brandished by those in the narcotics trade, street gangs, and terrorist organizations.

ATF is also a willing partner to state and local law enforcement agencies in their efforts to find and confiscate illegal guns. By providing local law enforcement access to the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), they make it possible to trace crime guns from one jurisdiction to another. At the end of the day, gun violence would be exponentially worse were it not for the dedicated work of the men and women of the ATF.

Georgia law enforcement has, under the right conditions, shown the ability to significantly reduce gun violence, particularly when partnering with federal law enforcement agencies. Earlier this year, in a police operation entitled “Save Our Seniors,” Rome and Floyd County police departments teamed up with local police agencies, the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force and ATF to focus on a Rome neighborhood besieged with drug-related gun violence and elder abuse. Early the operation, the team of officers, deputies and agents arrested 40 violent gang members and drug traffickers and seized 39 illegal guns. The guns were taken out of circulation among the criminal element, the neighborhood immediately returned to a state of peace and tranquility and the seized guns were all processed through the NIBIN network linking several to additional investigations.

In an earlier example, the Marietta Police Department worked with ATF and the U.S Attorney’s Office in a federally funded grant program entitled the “Franklin Road Weed and Seed Program.” In a sustained five-year effort, officers seized numerous illegal guns while the city government cleaned up neighborhood conditions conducive to crime and poverty. They established sustainable, still active, youth programs including a vibrant Police Athletic League (PAL) program and Youth Empowerment through Learning and Leading (YELLS) program. Today, the Franklin Road neighborhood, now renamed Franklin Gateway, thrives. It is safe for residents, new businesses, and sports complexes.

Several years earlier, in South Georgia, the Savannah Police Department teamed up with ATF and the U.S. Marshal’s Office in “Project Ceasefire,” a program that significantly reduced gun violence as well as a very high homicide rate. Working in cooperation with a state and locally funded career offender program entitled “Savannah Impact,” Savannah’s murder rate was reduced by half between 2001 and 2003.

All three successful Georgia gun reduction programs had local police departments willing to step up and lead the way to proactively do something about gun violence and illegal guns. They collaborated with state and federal law enforcement partners; engaged in careful operation planning to avoid violent confrontations between police and suspects; reached out for cooperation with responsible community members; and experienced no negative anti-police rhetoric from the news media. Where there is a true will to reduce gun violence, programs like Save our Seniors, Franklin Road Weed and Seed and Project Ceasefire can and should be replicated.

Finally, Georgia citizens can also play an important role in reducing gun violence by refraining from leaving guns in unattended cars and trucks. Both criminal street gangs and drug traffickers get their guns by breaking into cars and trucks. When citizens secure their guns in other than unattended vehicles, they too can reduce the illegal supply of guns on the street and gun violence.

The author once served as the police chief of the cities of Marietta and Savannah.


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