Residents hope gun deaths decrease with Gun Safety Consortium

Reverend Willie Davis, senior pastor of Unseen Reality Ministries in Milwaukee, has had enough.

Since he began his ministry, located at 2700 N. 54th St., he has seen pain and loss in his congregation. He consoled mothers whose sons attempted suicide with unsecured weapons. He organized services for young people who lost their lives due to gun violence.

He’s tired and he’s had enough.

“I don’t want to do any more funerals,” Davis said. “If we can save as many people as we can with smart weapons, with gun locks… let’s do it.”

He hopes the first step in the process will be for Milwaukee to join the Gun Safety Consortium, which includes a group of towns and villages across the country that are committing funds to research new gun safety measures. The group aims to bring together public funders to support research and procurement of new gun safety technologies.

The Common Council voted Nov. 2 for Milwaukee to join the Gun Safety Consortium, and Mayor Tom Barrett signed the resolution on Wednesday.

Davis is a member of Common Ground, a citizens’ group based in Southeastern Wisconsin that works to address social issues, such as gun violence. The gun safety group’s campaign, Don’t Stand By, brings together citizens, clergy and law enforcement to advocate for policies.

Members of the Milwaukee Police Department will begin testing 18 products that could help mitigate gun violence. Laura Vuchetich, East Siders member for Common Ground, said the immediate goal is to identify five or six of these products to use.

The effort could result in the conversion of normal firearms to smart weapons, which are weapons that require user ID to fire; cases that make the handling of weapons safer; geolocation devices; and anti-theft measures.

Although product testing for the new technologies will begin in December, it may take some time to see the effects. Rev. Robert Ater, associate pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church and a member of Common Ground, said Milwaukee will participate in the program for at least two years, based on its $ 10,000 contribution towards consortium membership.

Once the products have been tested, work begins to integrate them into the community. The effort is easier said than done: Many products cost over $ 100 on average, making them expensive for many gun owners. Cost considerations will make distributing these products more difficult than it is currently for less expensive efforts, like the gun locks distributed by the Office of Violence Prevention, Vuchetich said.

Common Ground members will also be responsible for engaging the community. Regarding convincing them of the importance, Davis said the plan is to let the stories of those affected speak for themselves.

“It’s the power of history,” Davis said. “We share the stories of families who have been hurt by senseless violence, by suicide.”

The stories also help keep those working on the project grounded.

“It depends on where we’re from, but we all have some kind of story that motivates us to find a solution and keep our eyes on that long horizon,” Vuchetich said.

Ater said the initiative goes beyond violent crime. Suicide accounted for about 70% of gun deaths in Wisconsin in 2019, he said. The initiative also hopes to reduce accidental gun deaths, especially among young children.

It can be difficult to attract so much attention for suicide gun deaths, Vuchetich said, because they are often less covered than violent crime.

“Suicides are silent,” Vuchetich said. “People don’t know them. It is not death or violence that creates fear.

The efforts could be critical, given the way guns are handled nationally. Less than 50% of guns are properly secured, Ater said. These efforts hope to find common ground between security advocates and the everyday gun owner.

“It’s a matter of life and death that we hear about every day,” Ater said.

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