Anarchists and many others in the radical left and libertarian movements are rightly skeptical of gun control due to the history of state power, including gun laws, being weaponized to directly target and oppress marginalized communities while simultaneously maintaining a state monopoly on violence. Despite the dangers of gun control, gun violence is still a very serious issue which we absolutely have to address in any productive way we can. Of course, most every proposal up until now has included gun control measures enforced by the police under threat of prison time or other retributive punishment. This is completely at odds with the current movements to defund and abolish the police and to end prison slavery and mass incarceration. Short of disarming police themselves, how can we address gun violence without empowering the police to further harass marginalized peoples and further contributing to mass incarceration? Well, I laid out many possibilities in my 6 part essay series Combating Hate, and that’s a start, but we have to be able to do more in the here and now, right? In steps an unlikely hero with a new suggestion: Cory Booker.
On October 23, 2019, Senator Cory Booker introduced S.2671, the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, with Representative Steven Horsford introducing the bill in the House as H.R.4836. The Break the Cycle of Violence Act is unlike any other piece of gun control legislation introduced in recent history. Instead of creating more gun laws for the police to enforce, the bill instead suggests tackling gun violence by actually reallocating funds towards evidence-based community violence prevention programs instead of relying on police to solve the issue.
The proposed legislation looks towards independent examples from multiple cities, specifically citing three main types of programs:
“(A) Hospital-based violence intervention programs (referred to in this section as “HVIP”), which work to break cycles of violence by providing intensive counseling, peer support, case management, mediation, and social services to patients recovering from gunshot wounds and other violent injuries. Research has shown that violently injured patients are at high risk of retaliating with violence themselves and being revictimized by violence in the near future. Evaluations of HVIPs have found that patients who received HVIP services were 4 times less likely to be convicted of a violent crime and roughly 4 times less likely to be subsequently reinjured by violence than patients who did not receive HVIP services.
(B) Evidence-based street outreach programs, which treat gun violence as a communicable disease and work to interrupt its transmission among community members. These public health-centered initiatives use street outreach workers to build relationships with high-risk individuals in their communities and connect them with intensive counseling, mediation, peer support, and social services in order to reduce their risk of violence. Evaluations have found that these programs are associated with significant reductions in gun violence, with some sites reporting up to 70-percent reductions in homicides or assaults.
(C) Strategies, including group violence interventions (referred to in this section as “GVI”), which are a form of problem-oriented policing that provides targeted social services and support to individuals at highest risk for involvement in community violence, and a process for community members to voice a clear demand for the violence to stop. This approach coordinates law enforcement, service providers, and community engagement efforts to reduce violence among a small, identifiable segment of the population that is responsible for the vast majority of gun violence in most cities. In one evaluation of the GVI program in Boston, researchers found a 63-percent reduction in youth homicides and a 25-percent decline in monthly gun assaults across the city. Other studies have found that GVI programs were associated with homicide reductions of up to 60 percent.”
Evidence shows that these programs work, without further contributing to mass incarceration or police violence. The issue currently is that these programs are inconsistently scattered across the country and inadequately funded. We need to fund these programs adequately and institute them throughout the country for them to be most effective at the work they do. This bill would create a funding system for these programs in the form of grants to programs in areas with significant gun violence, thus reducing gun violence (and related violence not involving firearms as well) and saving the tax payers a significant amount of money that currently goes towards emergency medical care and a bloated policing and mass incarceration system which does not actually address the problem. In effect, this solution is one of defunding the police. Even though the grant system this legislation would enact is not directly funded by reallocating resources currently going to local police departments, it does directly fund an alternative to the police that is far more effective, thus meaning that the police will be ever so slightly less involved moving forward. Having community-based anti-violence initiatives tackle the issue of gun violence instead of creating new laws for the police to enforce provides a path forward where police are not seen as the solution to every issue in society.
This bill combines the goals of several intersecting political movements and puts into practice the ideas of restorative and transformative justice in a major way. It is extremely important to back efforts like these when introduced and do our best to help make them reality. Very rarely does a piece of legislation offer us a decent solution to the issues it claims to address, but this seems like one of those rare times.