State of the city: Bell says national action needed on gun crime

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 01:45 AM

Mayor Bill Bell used his annual state of the city address on Monday to reiterate his support for national legislation to – as he termed it – “end the gun-violence epidemic” in Durham and other parts of the country.
That means lobbying members of Congress to support requiring a criminal-background check of anyone who buys a firearm, banning “high-capacity” weapons and making gun trafficking a federal crime, Bell said.
The mayor also said local officials have to demand that the federal government make data on the history of weapons used in gun crime more readily available to police so they can use it to crack down on illegal gun sales.
“We have to say enough is enough and have the fortitude to get it done and get it done now,” Bell said, noting that there were 221 gun-related crimes in Durham in the first half of 2012. “Simply saying ‘all we have to do is enforce the laws we [have] now on the books’ is not enough. We have to do that and more.”
Bell is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group organized and championed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His comments Monday followed by two weeks a news conference with two other Triangle mayors that made the same points.
The Jan. 14 news conference drew a blast from analysts at the John Locke Foundation, a conservative group based in Raleigh and bankrolled by Art Pope, a former state House member who’s now Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.
A blog posting by Locke staffer Jon Ham argued that the crime that’s happening in Durham has little to do with the sort of weapons Bell wants targeted.
“It isn’t AR-15s, the latest ‘military-style assault weapon’ boogeyman of the left, that causes most gun deaths in Durham, or any other city in the country,” Ham said.
It’s the handgun. Why no mention of the 9mm, choice of thugs everywhere?”
The mayor’s comments Monday on gun violence didn’t call for any new initiatives on the local level. His 2012 state of the city address sought a $300,000 minimum bond in gun-related cases, a proposal since watered down after drawing criticism from Durham defense attorneys and judges.
Bell also on Monday took stock of the city’s Rolling Hills/Southside redevelopment, a project in past state of the city addresses he made a point of defending.
Now, with work under way, the mayor indicated that he sees the potential renovation of the county-owned Whitted Junior High School as a potential complement to the city’s project. Developers plan a combination of a pre-school and apartments for seniors.
The county-sponsored project results from the collaboration of local officials and got a boost initially from the city’s work in Southside, Bell said.
“Five years ago, all of this was a vision, and now it is becoming reality because of our focus and commitment to bringing real and sustainable change to this neighborhood,” Bell said.
For the near future, the mayor warned that city officials will have to make decisions about backstopping or using local money to fill in where federal and state cutbacks are hollowing out programs.
He cited as one example the city’s financial support for the criminal justice system, which includes subsidies of judgeships and prosecutorial positions. Later this year it may also include payments to the state crime lab.
Cuts to federal housing subsidies and state transit aid are also possibilities, Bell said, adding that city leaders “must plan for unpredictability” in the budgeting decisions of higher-level governments.