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Editorial: Increase in gun violence is a drag on city's future

If anyone in Buffalo thought the stories about gun violence in Chicago were disturbing, they now have something even more unsettling to think about: This city’s rate of gun violence has tracked Chicago’s in several of the previous six years and twice exceeded it.

We have a problem.

The statistics are sobering. From 2011 through 2015, Buffalo recorded 94 shootings per 100,000 residents, only marginally lower than Chicago’s rate of 98 shootings per 100,000. Since 2015, the pace in Chicago has exploded, so even though Buffalo compared somewhat more favorably in 2016 (with a rate of 115 shootings versus Chicago’s 161), the troubling fact is that Buffalo’s rate has continued to rise. It’s a deadly serious issue that needs to play a prominent role in this year’s mayoral election.

The administration of Mayor Byron W. Brown argues that Buffalo is succeeding at making the city safer, noting that overall crime rates are lower today than they were in 2005, the year before Brown took office. That’s true and it’s not insignificant.

But it’s also like arguing that the national opioid crisis is nothing much to worry about since Americans are generally healthier than they were 20 or 30 years ago. If the scourge of opiate deaths around the country is a crisis, then what is Buffalo’s rising rate of shootings? It’s not possible to view that with anything other than worry, if not alarm.

The question is whether City Hall plans to respond aggressively to that alarm and, if so, how? It is, without doubt, a complicated issue fueled in part by poverty, greed and a lack of both education and opportunity. Given that, as Brown said to The News editorial board on Tuesday, it will take more than the city’s resources to confront this issue. Albany and Washington could play useful roles, but the interest and the commitment must begin at Niagara Square.

Given the realities of Buffalo, any call to action may not resonate broadly across the city. With most of the shootings occurring on Buffalo’s East Side, there is likely to be an element of the population that doesn’t see it as anything to be concerned about. But it is.

It is a fundamental duty of City Hall, and thus of Buffalo’s citizens, to promote a safe environment. First and foremost, that’s a matter of honor: People should not have to live in fear of violence of any kind, for themselves, their families and their neighbors. This is a matter of protection, the very reason that cities have police departments.

But it goes beyond that. Businesses and individuals looking at comparative rates won’t decide that Buffalo’s level of violence is OK because it’s concentrated in a particular area. This violence is a disincentive to economic development. It’s a dagger poised at the heart of Buffalo’s revival, especially on the East Side.

Controlling the flow and use of guns isn’t the only strategy that should be pursued, but it’s an obvious part of any goal to reduce violence. That’s what the SAFE Act was meant to do when, at the urging of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the State Legislature passed the law in the aftermath of the murders of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Rep. Chris Collins is working to undermine the SAFE Act. The Clarence Republican wants Congress to pass a law to prevent New York from approving gun control measures not sanctioned by Washington. He should stop trying to play governor.

The law is broadly popular in New York. It has been litigated. It’s constitutional. It is well established that gun control can be consistent with the Second Amendment, and the SAFE Act is. States have the constitutional right to pursue such laws.

The attempt to gut the SAFE Act serves only to placate the gun industry, for which no restrictions are ever acceptable, regardless of the Constitution or the Supreme Court. It may win some votes, but it is unlikely ever to pass and, if it did, it would only hurt Buffalo and the obvious need to make the city safer.

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