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Advocates hail executive actions, but warn 'intervention and prevention' are key

'Gun violence shouldn't be so normalized'
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Posted at 6:14 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 18:14:49-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The gun control debate is once again in the spotlight across the country and especially in Richmond following a violent week in the city. Advocates agree that something has to be done to prevent tragedies, but they're split on how.

"There were so many shootings, I couldn't keep up," said Ralph Hodge.

In just six days, CBS 6 reported on at least nine shootings in Richmond.

"Gun violence shouldn't be so normalized that you can't even tell one case from the other," said Hodge.

The pastor of Second Baptist Church on the Southside works with other city faith leaders to reduce gun crimes. Together, they embody RISC which stands for Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Communities.

"It focuses on intervention and prevention versus focusing on incarceration," Hodge explained.

The group welcomed new executive actions announced by President Joe Biden Thursday which aim to curb shootings across America. One of them calls for billions of federal dollars to be poured into community intervention programs, like RISC, that address behavioral problems.

"Are there educational issues? Are there mental health issues? Are there employment issues or housing issues?" are just some of the issues Hodge and other leaders aim to address.

Like Hodge, Virginia's Attorney General, Mark Herring, believes fighting gun violence takes a public health approach.

"Violence Interruption strategies work," Herring said. "With trained gun violence interrupters going into the community, that have the trust of the people who live there to work through those issues, we have a really good opportunity to lower gun violence."

That's why Herring launched the "Respect Richmond" program in 2017. It only ran for nine months, but Herring said it proved to be effective.

"Homicides dropped 50% in priority neighborhoods," he said. "Violent crime overall dropped 30%."

Herring said he plans to work closely with President Biden's team to bring funding for intervention programs to the Commonwealth and hopes to relaunch "Respect Richmond."

Other measures out of the White House restrict ghost guns, or self-assembled weapons, and require braces for pistols to be registered.

"He's infringing on our rights left and right," Philip Van Cleave said about the executive actions.

The Virginia gun rights advocate believes stricter laws won't even put a dent in the rampant violence we've seen throughout Richmond. Rather, he said they hurt law-abiding citizens.

"If a guy breaks into your house, and he's about to murder you, do you really care where he got the knife or where he got the gun?" asked Van Cleave. "Does that really matter?"

He said the alternatives to making streets safer include prosecuting criminals and addressing mental health issues.

While debate over gun control persists, Pastor Hodge encourages the community to come together to save lives.

"We need big solutions. We need creative solutions," said Hodge. "This is something that hurts everyone."