Gun violence is an appalling reality for Americans. In the past month, The Daily Californian alone has reported on six incidents in Berkeley. From police misuse to school shootings to the murder of Seth Smith this June, gun violence feels pervasive.
The UC Berkeley community most recently called for public safety reform in response to Smith’s death. However, this is a long-standing problem within the city of Berkeley that touches us all, from students to residents to candidates for Berkeley City Council.
Given all of this, it is unacceptable that the city has no distinct plan to battle gun violence. After a San Pablo Park shooting mobilized community members in 2018, the city invested $60,000 into a gun buyback program, but no recent steps have been taken to fortify it. Ordinances for the safe storage of firearms have accompanied intermittent statements from city officials denouncing gun violence, but Berkeley has a duty to its residents to revamp public safety initiatives.
The city is at a turning point. The Black Lives Matter movement has incentivized reinvestment into other avenues of de-escalating possibly violent situations — in July, the City Council reallocated $9 million from the Berkeley Police Department, noting that part of the sum would be directed toward ameliorating public safety. It can do so now by informing the community about existing programs, augmenting those programs and strategically redistributing funding.
During this local election season, community members must specifically ask candidates about their gun violence and public safety agendas. The state Legislature can be unwieldy and ineffective, the federal government even more so, leaving it up to the city to create a concrete plan. Moreover, the city must broadly publicize its progress — through notices on its website and regular updates at City Council meetings — so that citizens may hold it accountable.
Any plan must specifically address the kind of gun violence found in Berkeley — one-on-one shootings. In this way, gun buyback programs may be particularly effective, as would furthering investment in local organizations and projects that have cohesive plans to combat gun violence, such as the UC Berkeley School of Law’s Gun Violence Prevention Project.
UC Berkeley also has an unavoidable role to play. Administration has an immediate interest in investing in public safety, as most students live off campus. Therefore it must direct attention to the issue by publicizing city plans, or even reallocating UCPD’s resources.
The absence of any distinct path forward in fighting gun violence represents a gaping hole in the city of Berkeley’s public safety plan. This issue has always weighed heavily on the city, but calls for change are more timely now than ever. We should not have to wait to feel safe in our own city.