For all their disagreements on a variety of major policy issues, Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker, found common ground in a contentious Chicago Sun-Times debate last week about the need for a new approach to address gun violence. Their proposed solutions focused mainly on the violence plaguing poorer neighborhoods of Chicago, but they could just as easily apply to the streets of metro St. Louis.
Asked how he would reduce gun violence in Illinois, Rauner responded by arguing that "The real answer to your question is jobs. The best way to stop a gun is with a job." He launched into a defense of his tax plan as a means to increase employment, prompting a debate questioner to interrupt, believing that the governor was veering off topic.
But Rauner was right. Not about his tax plan, which would more than likely do little to address the pressing unemployment and income issues where gun violence is prevalent. But the idea of using employment as a response was on target because it is an essential ingredient to get high-risk communities out of poverty.
There's a reason high-employment suburban communities have fewer gun violence problems than low-employment urban neighborhoods do. Gang membership and drug trafficking, both major drivers of gun violence, tend to flourish when residents have fewer income options. Studies have shown that increasing employment in high-violence neighborhoods dramatically decreases violence.
Employment alone isn't enough, however, and Rauner failed to articulate much of a strategy beyond job creation. Pritzker, on the other hand, tends to veer away from employment but supports other initiatives that also could make a difference.
In last week's debate, he lamented the decline of "many of the violence-interruption services, human services that people have as their last vestige of connection with civilization." Pritzker has previously alluded to his support for violence prevention programs, such as Cure Violence, and social and mental support programs. Cure Violence has helped reduce shootings and killings by 40 percent to 73 percent in 13 Illinois communities, including Chicago, Springfield and East St. Louis.
Collectively, the two wealthy candidates came close to a workable vision for combating gun violence, even though individually they fell short. Employment will not work without social work services to help high-risk individuals escape gang life and deal with the pressures that accompany holding down a job. Social services without employment cannot reduce the economic incentives that encourage gang membership in the first place.
Debates can and should be about a productive exchange of ideas to solve problems. The winner in the Nov. 6 election can perform a greater service to all Illinoisans by taking stock of the other candidate's ideas and uniting them in a singular approach more likely to yield long-term success against gun violence.
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