This report is based on the activities of the Digital Communities program, a network of public- and private-sector IT professionals who are working to improve local governments’ delivery of public service through the use of digital technology. The program — a partnership between Government Technology and e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government — consists of task forces that meet online and in person to exchange information on important issues facing local government IT professionals.

More than 1,000 government and industry members participate in Digital Communities task forces focused on digital infrastructure, law enforcement and big city/county leadership. The Digital Communities program also conducts the annual Digital Cities and Digital Counties surveys, which track technology trends and identify and promote best practices in local government.

Digital Communities quarterly reports appear in Government Technology magazine in March, June, September and December.

We haven’t yet, as a society, come to terms with guns. The nation was born in a revolution fought with muskets, and the right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Even Thomas Jefferson, that most cerebral of men, once said that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

But what if a madman shoots children, as happened recently in Connecticut? While crime as a whole is down — New York City even had a full day with no shootings or stabbings last fall — the fact remains that anyone who hears about a mass shooting wants to do something to prevent it from happening again. But treading a path between confiscation of all guns and open carry everywhere is not easy, and of the many ideas that have been offered, there are few workable solutions and many frustrating complexities.

Following the Sandy Hook school shooting, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy exemplified the frustration and the impulse to do something — anything — to stop gun violence. “We don’t yet know the underlying cause behind this tragedy, and we probably never will,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”

Many initiatives are circulating in Congress and numerous state legislatures, including proposals to restrict school visitors, increase taxes on gun sales, restrict clip sizes, outlaw semi-automatic weapons, and the latest twist: require gun owners to purchase liability insurance.

Most approaches to reducing gun violence — no one really expects to eliminate it altogether — focus on reducing access to firearms, either by decreasing the number and types of weapons in circulation, or by restricting access for individuals most likely to abuse firearms, such as convicted criminals, drug abusers and the mentally ill. Both approaches face significant obstacles.

Americans already own more than 300 million firearms of which more than 100 million are handguns, so limits on new firearms, ammunition, etc., could impact the annual sale of some 10,000 firearms, but will not touch the weapons already sitting in half the nation’s households. While the gun control debate heats up, the search continues for measures that are truly effective and that can reduce gun violence, which claims some 10,000 lives each year in the United States.

The 12-step motto — “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — might provide a practical approach for dealing with gun violence and the legislative efforts under way.

Some things we must live with, most notably guns in homes. The vast majority of those are used responsibly for hunting, target shooting or self-protection. But as long as there are firearms in the hands of people, there will be the violent actions of a few disturbed individuals. The things that can be changed are the subject of this special section, especially IT tools that can help prevent, mitigate and recover from gun violence.

Guns in Milwaukee

For a street-level look at gun violence in America’s cities, Government Technology talked with Milwaukee Police Chief Edward A. Flynn who commands an agency of 2,000 sworn officers and 700 civilians, serving a city of some 600,000 residents. At one time, Flynn served as secretary of public safety under former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Wisconsin is an open carry state, where those not prohibited from possessing a firearm may carry a weapon visibly on their person without a license, or carry a concealed weapon with a license except in schools, government buildings and a few other places. According to Flynn, that does not make policing any easier.

“Our challenge is to keep firearms out of the hands of those who should not have them,” said Flynn, “and that includes the criminal, the mentally ill and substance abusers. One of our problems is there are gaping loopholes in who’s required to be subjected to a background check. That has to change. There is much talk of individual rights when it comes to firearms, but every individual right in the Constitution has to be balanced against the rights of the community. And communities have a right to be free from firearm violence, particularly if it could have been prevented through prudent regulation.

“Unfortunately for our country,” he said, “all sanity and rationality seemed to go out the window as soon as one begins to confront a notion of rational regulation of firearms.”

Flynn doesn’t expect firearms to completely disappear, nor is he advocating that. “What we are saying is that when you have the levels of violence we have in this country, it’s our obligation to make sure that a lawful right to possess a deadly weapon is appropriately regulated by making sure that there are serious sanctions for illegally possessing a weapon and that there are serious application processes in place that protect all of us from the remorseless and the criminal and the irrational.”

Photo: Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn enlists technology to help secure his city and its residents. Photo by David Kidd.

Federal Initiatives

View Full Story
Wayne Hanson  | 

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.