Gainesville held the second day of its “Choose Peace” gun violence summit on Monday to address potential policies the city can enact to help curb the high rate of gun violence in the city.
Gainesville has had 285 shooting incidents since 2021, according to data provided by the Gainesville Police Department. More than half – 158 – of these shootings occurred in east Gainesville.
Community leaders, gun violence prevention experts and the general public gathered to discuss possible policy options and try to find some sort of solution.
State legislation prevents policymakers from restricting access to firearms.
Summit participants represented different sectors within the community — local government, healthcare, public safety, education and business.
The participants broke out into groups and analyzed the issue through the lens of their respective sectors while also considering the mental health aspect of gun violence — from the individual, relationship, community and societal perspectives.
Most participants agreed that the best approach was from the ground up, starting in the home.
“If you fix the child but don’t fix the family, you haven’t accomplished anything,” Gainesville City Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said.
Another option offered by Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott is to increase community policing efforts and outreach programs to youth while getting other law enforcement agencies to share more information.
The representative of the business sector, the Rev. Karl Anderson, recommended learning and earning trade education programs to give disenfranchised people a chance at building themselves up and out of the hole they may find themselves in.
“We can’t arrest our way to a better community,” said Anderson.
Many speakers liked the idea of putting public service announcements on social media where they will reach the most number of young people. However, Zeriah Folston, the interim director of Gainesville’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, noted that the PSAs must resonate with their target audience, or they will be ineffective.
The summit didn’t result in any new policy but got the ball rolling. Each sector is to strive to meet the goal they set for themselves, and the summit will reconvene in January 2024 to see what worked and what policymakers still need to work on.
One aspect that everyone in attendance agreed on is that gun violence in Gainesville is one of the city’s most pressing issues. If nothing is done, gun violence will continue to plague the city’s residents.
“You are waging war within the soul of America,” said the summit’s keynote speaker Ariel Cathcart, with the nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety, addressing her comments to those who commit shootings.
“We don’t have to live like this, and we sure as hell don’t have to die like this,” she said.