Will Obama's Plan Affect Urban Gun Violence?

Getting better data will help prevent deaths, said a White House official.

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President Barack Obama speaks on gun control. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

(The Root) -- With family members of some of the children who died in the Newtown, Conn., shooting in the audience, President Obama on Tuesday unveiled his second-term plans (pdf) to implement new gun-control measures. Among the proposals mentioned: strengthening background checks to ensure that the 40 percent of gun purchasers who evade background checks will no longer be able to do so, and requiring a 10-round limit for firearm magazines, thus limiting the number of bullets that can be expelled quickly.

The president also announced that he will work with Congress to reintroduce the assault weapons ban, but emphasized that starting immediately, he would use his authority to order 23 executive actions to combat gun violence, which, according to the Washington Post, include "steps to strengthen the existing background-check system, promote research on gun violence and provide training in dealing with 'active shooter situations.' "

The president said he'd direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct more research on gun violence, and would ensure that federal data collection related to guns and gun violence is streamlined. To many, such measures, while important, hardly sound monumental, but a White House official told The Root that having good data, while perhaps not as compelling as some of the congressional measures on the table, is an essential "tool" in the quest to end gun violence.

"Taking each executive action will improve our ability to prevent people who should not have guns from slipping through the cracks."

Recognizing that a one-size-fits-all solution won't work to curb gun violence in America, it is vital to have good information on how violence manifests in each community, the official continued, explaining that at the moment it is hard to track the concentration and causes of gun violence and therefore find appropriate community-based solutions. For instance, asked about some of the policy challenges in addressing rural, suburban or urban violence, the official noted that mapping out strategically different approaches to each type requires gathering case-by-case, community-by-community data. Right now the data has been haphazardly compiled on the federal level, if at all. The president's executive actions will change that, said the official.

"At a federal level we want to give state and local leaders the tools that they need to design the best program for their community. We might find different reasons for gun violence. Is it gang violence? Is it related to mental illness?" (The official also stressed that it's important to de-stigmatize mental illness and noted that providing adequate mental health services via federal programs like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act are all pieces in a larger puzzle to address gun violence.)

When asked if the president's push toward more data follows the same reasoning as the creation of government-based registries such as DNA databases being used to combat sex crimes, the official agreed. While the impact of such data collection may not be immediately noticeable, it has significant long-term impact. The official pointed out that it was not until the federal government updated its definition of rape that the government became able to more effectively cross-reference data with states, and thereby work more effectively with local leaders to find modern-day solutions to decreasing sex crimes.

It is worth noting that one of the key components of New York State's tough new gun legislation is a statewide firearm registry that consolidates the state's county-by-county information system. It remains to be seen if part of the federal government's long-term plans will ultimately include similar data collection.

"Data collection is a tool," said the Obama administration official. "Doesn't solve problem itself but gives you the tools you need to combat it." 

Keli Goff is The Root's political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM