By Mike Lillis - 07/26/13 10:04 PM EDT
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) launched a campaign this week to combat gun violence where it's most concentrated: in the nation's cities.
Gathered in Chicago on Friday, the lawmakers hosted an emergency summit to examine strategies for reining in urban shootings, with an eye well beyond the gun control measures that have lost all steam on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia FudgeDems call for changes to child nutrition bill Ex-Clinton backer emerges as fierce Sanders surrogate Democrats to SEC: Get moving on diversity rules for boardrooms MORE (D-Ohio), head of the CBC, said the gathering represents a new chapter in the decades-old fight to tackle inner-city violence.
"We’re hosting this summit because now is the time to harness all the passion we have into one place, to get the CBC, the public and community leaders on one accord, and to help every individual understand their role in taking this movement for peace in a new direction,” she said.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) delivered a similar message, saying the meeting "will shine light on the burgeoning problem of gun violence in Chicago and across the nation."
"The opportunity to address gun violence on a local and national level should change our nation’s discussion, and change our nation’s response to the issue," he said.
Their choice of Chicago was not coincidental. The Windy City has the dubious distinction of leading the country in murders, with more than 220 shooting deaths already this year. The scourge was thrust into the spotlight over the long July 4 weekend, when at least 74 people were shot around the city, 12 of them fatally.
Although those numbers were enough to entice national headlines, most of the city's shooting deaths have come in smaller bursts, thereby passing largely under the radar.
Nationwide, there are more than 30 firearm murders each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The lack of national interest has not gone unnoticed by Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), who suggested Friday that the inattention to urban gun violence – on and off Capitol Hill – has contributed to a dearth of interest in finding solutions.
"I liken it to 747 crashes, as opposed to a two-seater," Kelly told MSNBC. "That seems to get a lot more attention."
The issue of gun violence was ubiquitous earlier in the year, as President Obama urged Congress to confront the problem with a long list of proposals addressing everything from gun access to mental health. The push was a direct response to December's shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a lone gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children.
The topic has all but evaporated since April, however, when Senate Republicans shot down a background check expansion central to Obama's strategy.
The CBC members are focusing their efforts well beyond gun-control, examining ways to create summer jobs, promote mentoring programs, encourage education and get parents more involved in the lives of their kids – things they say will clip urban violence at its roots.
"We definitely need an urban strategy, we need to invest in our youth," Kelly said Friday. "It's called priorities. If we invest now, that will save a lot of money. Sending someone to prison costs a whole lot more money than sending someone to college."
Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said the problems plaguing the nation's cities are largely economic, arguing that urban violence is "inextricably connected" to the "immense social and economic gaps" between black Americans and other ethnic groups.
“Fifty years after the March on Washington, our community still confronts many of the same issues, some in new forms," he said. "We are determined to find comprehensive solutions which sharply reduce violence and its root causes and do so with a clear understanding of the burning urgency of our task."
The Chicago summit came in the same week that CBC members hosted a hearing on Capitol Hill to promote the well-being of black men. The meeting was entitled, “The Status of Black Males: Ensuring Our Boys Mature Into Strong Men.”