RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said that “stronger policies around firearms” at the state and federal level would help combat gun violence, but that his administration will do “everything” it can to address the issue.
Stoney declared gun violence a public health crisis last year, announced investments in after-school programs and a new $500,000 gun buyback program and the city formed the Gun Violence Prevention Framework work group to target gun violence in Richmond.
The city reported 90 homicides last year, the most on record since there were 95 in 2004, and 76 were gun-related. Richmond police records show 12 gun-related homicides this year as of April 3, a 20% increase from the same point last year.
Stoney lauded the city’s efforts to address gun violence and said that police are doing “everything they can to respond” to the cases, claiming there is a high clearance rate this year. But he said the city is forced to play defense in most cases.
“But you know what would really help us being on offense? If we had stronger policies around firearms at the state level and at the federal level,” Stoney said during a press conference.
Stoney said firearms are far too accessible to young people and others who shouldn’t have them, pointing to those with criminal records or mental health challenges that should keep guns from their hands.
“There is no gun manufacturing outfit in Richmond, but these guns are inundated in areas in the East End and South Side. Areas of predominately Black and brown people. So, it’s going to take more than what the city is doing. It’s going to take the work of the Commonwealth to get tough on this issue, not just with police but with policy as well. It’s going to take the federal government as well,” he said.
The mayor called gun violence a crisis that won’t end overnight but “a crisis we can solve,” explaining that the city would throw “money” and “the kitchen sink” at the problem.
Stoney said the city has hired a community safety coordinator and pointed to grant money for a gun violence prevention program targeting middle schoolers. He said the city is working with two middle schools and is looking for a third-party to help implement its buyback program.
He did acknowledge that the city has yet to post the three civilian “violence interrupter” positions on its website. In February, the police department announced it would be hiring the interrupters to help the city address gun violence.
“The violence interrupters will be part of a collaborative effort in alignment with community members, businesses, and partners who focus on interrupting violence at its core,” a Richmond police spokesperson said in a Feb. 4 release.
Stoney added that he believes it is also up to community members to get involved in gun violence prevention.
“A lot of this rests on the shoulders of every Richmond resident. Every Richmond resident. We have to be all involved as a community, one community in combating gun violence. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Stoney said. “There’s no magic wand for something like this.”
He called on residents to address issues with people they felt could be a danger to society and to alert law enforcement if needed, saying Wednesday that there is no defense to resolving a conflict through violence.
“We can’t eliminate all the weapons today. But it’s my hope with the partners at the state and federal level, we will one day get there so my community, the city I love sees less and less death because of gun violence,” Stoney said.
On Tuesday, a community-based group made up of 22 congregations from the Richmond area called on Stoney and the city to implement the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program. The organization, Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities (RISC), had previously urged the city to adopt the program.
The National Network for Safe Communities, the group that pioneered GVI, says the program “reduces homicide and gun violence, minimizes harm to communities by replacing enforcement with deterrence, and fosters stronger relationships between law enforcement and the people they serve.” The organization points to drops in homicide rates in other cities that have adopted the program, including Boston and Indianapolis.
An administration official told 8News that the city did incorporate some aspects of the program, but called it a “law enforcement-heavy approach to gun violence prevention that lacks causal evidence that would support its success in our city.”