Last month, the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG) Board of Directors considered two resolutions on reducing gun violence. One called for continued study without any action and the other called for endorsement of the policy position of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). The policy position covers a range of gun related topics including background checks and sale of certain weaponry. The Board narrowly defeated the study resolution and a large majority voted for endorsing the IACP position. The Board also unanimously called for a review of mental health system issues that might be relevant. Since then, some Board members have sought to undo these actions by threatening to withhold dues until the Board reneges on its action. Consistent with the City’s longstanding position on gun policy issues, I voted for the resolution endorsing the police chiefs’ recommendations.
Gun violence has a very strong nexus to our roles as public officials, both as employers and managers of public servants, including first responders, and as budget overseers because the effects of gun violence are paid for in many ways in local budgets. Our first responders are called to the scenes of gun violence and are sometimes victims themselves, whether police officers, firefighters or increasingly, teachers and other public employees. Our budgets carry the direct costs of gun violence, including costs for the enhanced equipment, training and personnel necessitated by gun violence and the human toll and economic losses when our employees are victims. This year’s City budget discussions provide many examples of expenditures made necessary by gun violence including additional school resource officers. And during an earlier budget work session we heard about the special gun violence training now needed for our library staff, as well as our school staff, because the regime in Richmond has refused to allow us to set our own gun related security policies for the public facilities we alone built and maintain, such as Council Chambers, the library and our parks and recreation center.
The data show gun violence is a huge safety, security and quality of life issue for our region and the public we protect. For these and other reasons, gun violence has some of the strongest possible connections with our roles as public officials and is appropriate for COG and City action.
Further, the specific action approved by the COG Board was not irrational or ad hoc. Instead, the Board voted to support the positions of the International Association of Chiefs of Police on gun violence and its prevention. This matter is clearly within the range of their expertise and experience. In addition, the COG Board agreed to look at other potential elements of prevention, including mental health.
The action the COG Board took was done according to transparent and long established procedures. The gun violence issue had been discussed at an earlier meeting; requests were made for proposed actions; and staff provided alternative actions on the public agenda in advance of the March meeting. At the meeting, there was a full and fair opportunity to comment on all sides of the proposed alternatives. And the votes were cast and recorded so that those who opposed or supported the measures are on the public record of doing so.
There are now demands that COG should limit its activities to transportation, economic development and environmental issues, not take positions on controversial issues or act only on a consensus basis. Whatever the merits of that view going forward, that has not been the rule governing COG activities. If this is to be the rule in the future, we should debate it for future use.
In my nearly 20 years with COG, I have occasionally not prevailed on everything from transportation to homeland security issues. Sometimes I was disappointed and angry and occasionally even criticized the action in public. All of these reactions would be quite understandable and appropriate for those who lost this vote. Yet at no time did I suggest that withholding dues was an appropriate response, because I knew that even threatening it would serve to undermine regional cooperation that is so productive for us all in so many ways. And acceding to such a demand would have an even more disastrous result on the future of regionalism. That’s because it will have set a precedent that threats and intimidation are the way to win. Regrettably, that’s exactly what a new “compromise” proposal from some Northern Virginia jurisdictions will achieve – capitulation to intimidation. It would reverse the COG action and punt the issue for an additional six months “study” with no assured outcome, except no action.
When the two dozen gun carriers invaded our City Council Chambers several years ago, I strongly and vocally opposed their position. Unfortunately, the history of the intervening years has proven the wisdom of that stance. Allowing virtually unrestricted access to unrestricted firepower has sewn a bitter, tragic harvest of death and injury. Indeed, the record of gun related violence embodies the very definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
David Snyder is the Vice Mayor of the City of Falls Church