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Cincinnati's Democratic Mayor talks tackling gun control in a GOP-led state

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How much can local officials do about gun violence? If there is any solution soon, it may have to come from them. Congress is debating very narrow gun reforms at best. Many states have been peeling away gun regulations. Ohio is one example. The state recently made it easier to carry a gun without a permit. Cincinnati, Ohio, still hopes to reduce gun violence this summer. And Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval is on the line to talk about that. Mayor Pureval, welcome.

AFTAB PUREVAL: Thank you so much for having me.

INSKEEP: We were just talking a minute ago. Cincinnati is a beautiful city. But I've been following the news. You have a problem with gun violence and an especially grave problem this year. How serious is the situation?

PUREVAL: The serious as - the situation is as serious as it can be. And it's not just Cincinnati. It's a challenge all across our country, which is why we are so in desperate need of federal action. Steve, there are two issues that are really driving gun violence in major American cities - that is, No. 1, the universal accessibility of guns on our streets and, No. 2, the inability of folks to resolve differences peacefully. What used to result in a fistfight, unfortunately, now results in a shootout. And mayors across the country just met in - at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Republicans and Democrats, 250 of us mayors in the United States are pleading that the Senate does something to start mitigating this problem.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about the first of those two problems you named. The universal accessibility of guns - are you powerless to do anything about that?

PUREVAL: We are not powerless to do anything about gun violence. Cincinnati is leading the way in innovative solutions, like sending unarmed medical professionals to some 9-1 - non-violent 911 matters to free up police resources to prevent and prosecute violent crime. But when we're talking about specifically gun control, local leaders are preempted by their statehouses or by the federal government and really don't have very many tools to manage the accessibility of guns. We're doing everything we can at the local level, partnering with the Department of Justice, ATF and the FBI, with our local law enforcement to prevent the importation of illegal guns. But the fact of the matter is, there are now more guns than people in our country. And it's creating an arms race where people don't feel safe unless they have a gun. So guns beget more guns, which, unfortunately, makes us all unsafe.

INSKEEP: Can you help me understand the debate in Ohio? That measure that made it easier to carry a gun without a permit was signed by Mike DeWine, the governor. He is in the opposite party. I'm sure you disagree on many issues. But he seems like a reasonable, fact-based guy. Have you had a chance to discuss this with him? Do you feel like there's - that he understands the problem you have in Cincinnati?

PUREVAL: Well, in 2019, an hour north of here in Dayton, Ohio, a gunman opened fire. And in 32 seconds, Steve - 32 seconds, murdered nine people and injured 27. It was a shocking tragedy of gun violence. At that time, leaders from the state, from the federal government came to Dayton and promised action. But in the three years since the tragedy in Dayton, not only have our state leaders signed into law a permit-less concealed carry law, in opposition of law enforcement, but also has signed stand your ground and also now is on the verge of passing a resolution which would create more guns in our schools by arming our teachers. So instead of doing something about gun violence, unfortunately, our state leaders have taken us in the opposite direction.

INSKEEP: Do you think they are actually - not intentionally, but actually encouraging further gun violence, then?

PUREVAL: Well, I think, if the two issues are the universal accessibility of guns and, No. 2, the inability to resolve conflicts, all of the measures in Columbus are doing nothing to mitigate or interrupt the accessibility of guns, but rather making access to guns more easily. So there is a fundamental disconnect between the problem on our streets and the solutions being advocated at the federal and state level.

INSKEEP: So in the - I don't know - 30 seconds or so that we have here, what are you going to be doing this summer that is possible, that is practical for you to get done?

PUREVAL: We are going to do everything we can to lean into innovative law enforcement techniques that are data-driven, which is why we've launched the Gun Crimes Intelligent Unit here in Cincinnati, which looks at data and science like shell casings to connect defendants to crimes rather than relying on implicit bias. As I mentioned earlier, we're also freeing up police resources by sending unarmed medical professionals. And some of the root causes of violence is poverty, so we've made a historic investment in our social services. And we're also doing as much as we can on community engagement and creating an economy that gives people hope and choices rather than despair.

INSKEEP: Mayor Pureval, good luck this summer.

PUREVAL: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: Aftab Pureval, mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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