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February 5, 2013

Editorial: Only a broad approach to gun violence will work

The photos told the story as powerfully as the words.

A child runs barefoot past a pile of trash.

A pit bull greets a sheriff's deputy responding to a domestic dispute.

On the counter of a Jiffy Mart, a jar seeks donations to pay for the funeral expenses of Anthony Navarro, gunned down last month in a drive-by shooting.

These are all everyday images and experiences in the south Sacramento neighborhood of Lemon Hill, the focus of a story Sunday by Cynthia Hubert, Phillip Reese and photographer José Luis Villegas. Based on The Bee's review of police records between 2007 and November of 2012, no other similarly sized Sacramento County neighborhood had more reports of two categories of gun crimes: assault with a firearm and shooting into an occupied dwelling or vehicle.

Since the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., much of the nation's focus has been on how to stop a lone gunman armed with a semi-automatic weapon from shooting up another school. That's hardly surprising, given the horrific deaths of so many young children.

Yet in many parts of Sacramento and across the nation, there are neighborhoods such as Lemon Hill, where stray bullets and funerals take place too regularly, and with little or no national attention. These are the places where poverty intersects with easy access to guns; where high-school dropouts are lured to join gangs; where dealing drugs and prostitution are quick ways to earn cash for those with no prospects of jobs.

In midtown Sacramento, residents are making a big noise about an uptick in street crime. They should feel fortunate they don't live in Del Paso Heights, south Sacramento or North Highlands. As a graphic on Sunday showed, these are the neighborhoods that have endured high rates of gun violence for several years. Central Sacramento has been relatively untouched.

It's the places like Lemon Hill that will truly test those who want to reduce gun violence in America. The sources of bloodshed aren't easy to pinpoint or correct, and neither side in the gun control debate wants to acknowledge that.

The NRA thinks that more guns among law-abiding people in Lemon Hill will solve the problem. John Torres doesn't believe that. A property manager in Lemon Hill, he says that "bad guys with guns are everywhere in this neighborhood." But he says he doesn't carry one, fearful it could be used against him.

Gun control advocates, meanwhile, think an assault weapons ban and more background checks are the answer. Yet Ray Duncan, a Sacramento County sheriff's sergeant who patrols Lemon Hill, is doubtful those changes will help the neighborhood much.

"There already are so many illegal guns out here, I don't see it making a big difference," he told The Bee. "If a guy wants to shoot multiple people he's not going to say to himself, 'Oh, this gun is banned, I'm not going to use it.' "

The nation does need stronger laws to limit easy access to guns, particularly assault weapons that no lawful citizen needs or should want on the streets. But stronger gun laws should be only part of the response. President Barack Obama on Monday was in Minneapolis, and unfortunately, most of the media focus was on the president's gun control proposals, instead of Minneapolis' broader approach. In 2006, Mayor R.T. Rybak declared gun violence to be a "public health" threat and took steps to identify and control the underlying causes. These included easy access to guns – but more importantly, lack of adult support and incentives for youths to join gangs.

Although Minneapolis hasn't solved the problem, it can claim some success. Over the last five years, the city has seen a 66 percent decrease in the number of youths involved in gun-related incidents and a 41 percent drop in young people injured by guns. By bolstering its ongoing efforts to fight gangs, Sacramento County can similarly save lives, and make neighborhoods like Lemon Hill safer, more healthy places to reside.

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