Durham officials called on state legislators Thursday to put in place “common-sense gun laws” in the aftermath of a rash of homicides in the first weeks of 2019.
Mayor Steve Schewel said it’s important to address the “root causes” of violence.
“First of all, and I have to mention this, we have got to have common-sense gun laws in this state,” he said.
Newly elected Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead echoed the mayor, saying it’s too easy for young people to access guns.
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“There are far too many guns in our community,” Birkhead said. “I talk with our leaders in Raleigh about smart gun legislation that will limit the access young people have to guns. I have young people telling me it’s easier to get a gun than it is to get a meal, and that’s just unacceptable.”
Officials gathered Thursday to address the six homicides that occurred in Durham and Durham County in the first 11 days of the year. They tried to reassure the community that Durham is not a dangerous place, and the spate of homicides was outside the norm.
Durham saw a decrease in violent crime and gun violence last year, they said. In 2018, violent crime in Durham dropped 13.5 percent and gun violence dropped 20 percent.
“I don’t want to to lose sight of the big picture,” Schewel said. “Durham is a safe city.
He said any perception that the city is “a violent place” is often expressed by people living outside Durham.
“Raleigh is a great place to live 20 miles away from,” Schewel said. “We are a diverse city — the most diverse city in the region. People outside the city see that diversity, and prejudice overcomes their good sense.”
Still, city and county leaders pressed for stricter gun-control measures.
Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said Durham police took 870 illegal guns off the streets last year.
“One hundred and twenty were moved through a local business,” Davis said, adding that many were stolen.
Schewel questioned the wisdom of current laws that allow people to carry firearms in public places such as parks, while noting the need for strong background checks and a prohibition on the sale of firearms at flea markets.
“We need to make it very difficult to get guns,” he added.
Five of the recent homicides occurred in Durham, and one was in the county, Davis said. Three of the five cases in Durham were domestic, she said, including the deaths of a 20-year-old woman and her 10-month-old daughter.
The Durham Police Department has a unit dedicated to domestic violence, Davis said. Birkhead said the sheriff’s office has dedicated more resources to its domestic violence unit.
Schewel said some violent crime will continue to happen in Durham, just as it happens in any other city across America. He said the spike in homicides at the start of the year was an “anomaly.”
“I don’t want to minimize it, but going forward I expect this to change,” the mayor said.