AKRON — Simply put, Akron Police Chief Jim Nice believes almost every proposal to curb gun violence that he has heard won’t work.
Because Chief Nice, who used to head undercover operations for the FBI, says the proposals don’t address the main problems that lead to gun deaths.
“It makes me so mad I can’t see straight,” Chief Nice tells the I-Team.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut where 20 children and six adults were killed, many proposals focused on banning assault weapons and increasing security at schools.
Chief Nice doesn’t oppose considering either of those ideas, or both. He just doesn’t think they will help much.
The reasons are simple: most people aren’t shot in schools and most people aren’t shot with expensive assault rifles.
They are shot and killed on the streets and cities, such as Chief Nice’s hometown of Akron.
“I have to have cars go to shootings every day,” Chief Nice says, “and nobody’s paying attention.”
The I-Team rode with Akron’s SNUD unit, the group of officers who battle narcotics on the streets of the city every day.
Within two hours, they had stopped a suspect who had a loaded gun.
The officers were not surprised.
Detective Donny Williams says finding illegal guns and drugs becomes “pretty much routine.”
“You get used to it,” Det. Williams says, “but you never let your guard down.”
The legislative focus, Chief Nice believes, should not be on gun ownership, but rather on illegal gun possession and use.
State Senator Frank LaRose agrees.
“Less than one percent of the bad guys are committing 57 percent of the violent crimes,” he says.
Senator LaRose, a republican from Akron, is working with other lawmakers to try and write a new state law that would stiffen penalties for illegal gun possession and use. The challenge is to write a law that is both tough and narrow – one that targets career criminals without throwing away the lives of some people who have committed crimes.
“Prisons are for people who are a real danger to society,” Sen. LaRose says, “and not just people we’re unhappy with, but people that we’re legitimately afraid of.”
Chief Nice says the federal system routinely hands out lengthy prison sentences to a “felon in possession” – a convicted felon who illegally possesses a gun, but who may not be using it in a crime.
When asked if someone should go to jail for years for illegally possessing a gun or bullets, Sen. LaRose says “the common sense aspect is always a part of the law.”
He says the goal of the state legislators is to draft a law that will “find the folks who are the worst of the worse and make sure they’re in prison.”
Karen Elliott and Denise McCray, two mothers who lost their children to gun violence, want something to change.
Elliott, whose 12-year old daughter Cookie Thomas was killed in the crossfire of a drug robbery gone bad in Cleveland, says “we need to try to get together and change the law.”
McCray, whose 29-year-old son Evan was killed in Cincinnati by a bullet meant for the driver of a car in which he was a passenger, says gun violence has become an epidemic.
“The impact it has on a family,” she says softly, a tear running down her face, “is unbelievable.”
Guns are certainly the weapon of choice for killing people in Ohio.
According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2011, the latest year available, there were 488 murders that year in Ohio and 344 of them were committed with guns.
“Guns in the hands of kids,” said Karen Elliott,” is the main problem in almost every city.”
Chief Nice says where a generation ago, teens and young adults settled scores with their fists, they now practice “conflict resolution via handguns.”
Sen. LaRose says the Ohio Legislature has already passed a law that seeks to get more low-level drug offenders into treatment rather than into prison.
The hope is that fear of prison will reduce the number of felons carrying guns, which will then reduce gun violence.
“There’s not many people in society who are willing to carry a gun and shoot people,” Chief Nice says.
“If you can’t incarcerate those people,” he adds, “you will never be safe.”