Community members fighting violence in Newark stand to be recognized at press conference. Photo credit: Ark Republic/Anaya Battle

Coalition of gun safety advocates and New Jersey elected officials call on ATF to close the background check loophole

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Two hundred fifty million in grant funding for violence intervention programming unlocked by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act highlighted.

Newark’s Mayor Ras J. Baraka joined Senator Bob Menendez in urging the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to fully implement federal rules required by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) to help close the gun seller background check loophole. The BSCA—the first significant federal gun safety legislation in 30 years—was signed into law by President Biden on June 25, 2022.

“This landmark legislation also unlocked more than $250 million for community violence intervention programs [as] well as funding for mental health, school safety and more; however, there is still more work to do, and I for one won’t stop fighting until Congress passes more comprehensive gun safety reforms,” said Sen. Menendez.

The press conference comes on the heels of a continued increase of mass shootings across the country, including one that occurred in Newark that resulted in three deaths on May 7. 

According to the Gun Violence Archive, just in this month alone, there have been 27 mass shootings and counting. The agency defines mass shootings as “4 or more shot [persons] or killed, not including the shooter.”

“In Newark, we are applying the expertise of a comprehensive public safety ecosystem that addresses the wide-ranging causes and conditions of violence before they have a chance to erupt into events that further traumatize our community. This important work makes inroads into our residents’ well-being and has brought our homicide rate to a 60-year low,” said Mayor Baraka.

Last year, the City announced that it selected 8 community-based organizations in a violence-reduction initiative. However, Newark has an uphill battle in tackling gun violence. According to New Jersey State Police statistics, Newark and the county it sits in, Essex County, led in crime gun recoveries this year and in 2022. The city now positions itself for more funding.

“The investment of this grant puts a spotlight on decades-old strategies that have been utilized by Community Based Violence Intervention Agencies to keep black and brown communities safe, often overshadowed by organizations and institutions that are well funded,” said Daamin Durden, Executive Director of the Newark Community Street Team.

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Mayor Ras Baraka speaks at press conference urging the ATF to close the gun check background loop. Photo credit: Ark Republic/Anaya Battle

This year, Sen. Menendez joined several of his colleagues in forming the first Senate Gun Violence Prevention Caucus to coordinate common-sense solutions to battle the epidemic of gun violence in America. In February, the Senator led Senate colleagues in the reintroduction of the Keep Americans Safe Act, which would ban the importation, sale, manufacturing, transfer, or possession of high-capacity magazines. He also reintroduced the Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act, which would require the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect, preserve, and disclose gun records and gun tracing data.

Mayor Baraka identified violence as a public health issue. As part of the American Rescue Plan, the city said it planned to put $19 million into programs addressing violence. 

On the other hand, critics of the mayor have said that much of the trauma and social problems stem from chronic homelessness and poverty. Afrika Ibang, a local activist and sociologist who is known for his public criticisms against the Baraka Administration pointed out the issues in housing. “You’re working all day from sun up to sun down … these politicians, they write laws to make my reality of not being able to afford a home in Newark real.” Ibang and his organization, New Afrikan Black Panther Party, offer a free food program every Wednesday. He cited the CLiME report warning that the inequities would lead to “potential harmful consequences.” 

In response to a cry to remedy the growing numbers in unhoused residents, the city has launched a number of efforts. “An equitable city is built on the foundation of affordability,” the mayor said. “Our new housing goals and the actions outlined to achieve them will help us ensure all Newark residents have access to safe, decent, and affordable housing and that our city continues to be a vibrant gateway to opportunity for all – regardless of income, race, ethnicity or immigration status.”

Grants for the violence prevention program is due on May 25.

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