The recent spate of gun violence in Toledo has marked a disturbing start to a long summer. Police Chief Mike Navarre's strong response addresses both the crimes and the underlying culture in which firearms are all too prevalent.
Every year, more than 100,000 Americans are killed or injured by a firearm. Of the more than 30,000 annual gun deaths, more than half are suicides, some 40 percent are homicides, and the rest are unintentional. There is a direct correlation between the prevalence of gun ownership and gun deaths.
According to the Web site of the Legal Community Against Violence, Americans own some 270 million guns. That's about 90 guns for every 100 men, women, and children. Too many of these guns find their way into the waistbands and pockets of young black men in inner cities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says firearm homicide is the leading cause of death among African-Americans under 45.
In Toledo, 24 people have been shot in June. Eight were injured in five incidents of gun violence last weekend. And 17-year-old Montelle Taylor was shot to death June 10 on Auburn Avenue near West Bancroft Street.
At least two of the incidents may be related, police say. Chief Navarre said he is certain two of the shootings were gang-related. The vast majority of incidents involved African-American males in their teens and 20s.
The chief called this week on city police officers to join a new task force that will target high-crime neighborhoods. He said officers will be "very aggressive" patrolling these areas in late-night and early-morning hours when crimes tend to occur. The focus, Mr. Navarre said, is on stopping gun violence.
The crackdown undoubtedly will require overtime that will strain the police department's tight budget. But the expense will be worthwhile if it makes these neighborhoods safer for the vast majority of their law-abiding residents.
Police are offering $2,500 for information about a weekend shooting at a graduation party on Ranch Drive, in which at least three shooters wounded four people, and a second incident in which a young man was wounded in what appears to have been a barrage of gunfire at West Bancroft Street and Sylvan Avenue.
Toledo police have confiscated more than 400 guns this year. To remove more guns from city streets, the department will offer $1,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of anyone who illegally possesses a firearm.
Getting illegal guns off the streets is critical. Criminals have to know that justice will be swift and sure. But changing attitudes is, if anything, more important and more difficult.
Young, inner-city males too often equate manhood with the willingness to carry a (typically unregistered) gun and to pull it out at the slightest provocation. That has to change.
As it pursues criminals and illegal weapons, the police department should continue to work with neighborhood leaders to reduce gang activity and influence. Police, churches, and community activists need to get the message across that a gun doesn't make you a man.