Most people will never experience the tragedy of gun-related violence first-hand. They will never truly see how preventable deaths tear families apart and cast a dark shadow over communities who struggle to understand why lives of young men and women were taken prematurely. What is many times just a mention in the evening news haunts for decades families who have had to bury their son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister.  That anguish never fully goes away.

Throughout my 33 years in law enforcement I lived this reality far too often and saw how one fired shot can turn people’s lives upside down. I’ve looked in a mother’s eyes as she went from a state of confusion to sheer horror and unthinkable pain after hearing her loved one would not be coming home.  Those looks and feelings are forever ingrained in my memory and serve as a reminder every day that we as a community and a country must always be seeking an end to these horrible tragedies.   

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Over the last several years, high profile shootings have caught the attention of the American public and sparked a debate about what should be done to reduce gun violence in the United States. Unfortunately, much of the rhetoric coming from the White House has ignored the Second Amendment and encouraged laws that disproportionally target law-abiding citizens instead of criminals. This approach will do nothing to make our neighborhoods safer.

The truth is, a proven answer to gun violence has existed for decades but has been ignored for the past seven years because it does not fit the Administration’s political narrative. It is called Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN).

Beginning as the SafeCities initiative under President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDemocrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' Legacy of California's Prop. 187 foreshadows GOP's path ahead MORE and continuing under President Bush as Project Safe Neighborhoods the program operates under four key principles: partnerships, strategic planning, training, and outreach. Through strong partnerships, federal, state, and local governments create local gun crime reduction task forces and form coalitions with other local government agencies, social services, community groups, and citizens committed to reducing gun crime.  Instead of throwing money into random buckets, PSN relies on up-to-date and localized data to determine where law enforcement should deploy officers and where resources for intervention and preventative programs should be spent.  Another key component of the program is prosecuting individuals who commit crimes to the fullest extent of the law, be it illegal possession, trafficking, or illegal use of a firearm. PSN sent a strong, clear message that if you use guns illegally, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted.

My experience with PSN dates back to the beginning.  As Sheriff of King County in the 1990’s we took an unprecedented step toward reducing gun violence by forming the King County Violent Firearms Crime Coalition. The only countywide strategic plan of its kind, it worked by improving training in firearm-related investigations, streamlining prosecutorial procedures for gun crimes, and supporting practices identified as significantly impacting firearm-related crime.

The coalition was so successful that then-Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreKrystal Ball hits media over questions on Sanders's electability Democratic handwringing hits new highs over 2020 2020 general election debates announced MORE selected King County as one of ten law enforcement agencies to participate in the nationwide program.  As the program grew to include more parts of the country so did its success.  In the cities that first implemented PSN, including areas with high crime rates like Chicago, gun-related violence went down by an average of 4.1 percent.  According to a study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, the 82 PSN target cities with a high level of federal prosecution experienced a 13.1 percent decrease in violent crime in 2009. In contrast, the 170 cities the study examined that had not implemented the PSN program only saw a 0.9 percent decrease in violent crime. Further, cities located in low federal prosecution districts experienced a 7.8 percent increase in violent crime during the same period of time. 

Unfortunately, 2009 marked the beginning of the end for PSN.  Between 2010 and 2015 PSN grants dramatically declined. In total, $86 million was awarded in grants between 2010 and 2015, but only $4 million was awarded last year. This stands in stark contrast to the $133 million that was awarded to law enforcement agencies through the program from 2005 to 2009. Sadly, the Obama Administration and, by extension, Congress have largely ignored the proven success of Project Safe Neighborhoods.

We cannot let politics and funding constraints stand in the way of protecting our families.  Project Safe Neighborhoods coupled with bipartisan initiatives to help those suffering from mental health illnesses is our best bet at making meaningful and lasting gains in reducing gun-related crimes and deaths in our communities. It is incumbent upon the federal government to once again fully utilize the invaluable tool.  We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we know what works.

Reichert has represented Washington’s 8th Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee.