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After holiday violence, Biden urges states and Congress to address gun epidemic

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

President Biden is urging state and congressional leaders to address the gun violence epidemic after multiple shootings killed at least 15 people in the U.S. over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. In Philadelphia, a gunman killed five people, including a teenager, and wounded two others, both children, in an apparent random attack Monday night. Here's Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

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JIM KENNEY: I am frustrated and outraged that mass shootings like this continue to happen in communities across the United States. This country needs to reexamine its conscience and find out how to get guns out of dangerous people's hands.

SCHMITZ: We're now joined by Philadelphia City Council member Kenyatta Johnson. He founded and chairs the council's special committee on gun violence prevention. Good morning, Mr. Johnson.

KENYATTA JOHNSON: Hey, good morning, Rob. How are you?

SCHMITZ: Pretty good. Let's start with Monday's shooting in your city. Do authorities know whether there was a possible motive for the attack?

JOHNSON: To date, right now, we don't have a motive on the actual attack. It's being viewed as being a random attack. But even if that's the case, it's totally unacceptable. And there are several family members who are hurting from the loss of their loved ones, as well as a community and a city.

SCHMITZ: This is a tragic event. You know, Mayor Kenney says the country needs to get guns out of people's hands. While it waits for more action on the federal level, what can cities like Philadelphia do to reduce gun violence?

JOHNSON: Well, as chair of the special committee on gun violence, we've taken a three-pronged approach focusing on prevention, intervention, and most importantly, enforcement. And so, making sure that we're investing in organizations, what we call boots on the ground, that support and focus on young people who are carrying guns and providing them opportunities so they don't pick up guns in the first place; on the intervention side, finding ways and working with organizations that intervene and resolve conflicts around individuals so they don't pick up guns to resolve conflicts in the first place; and last and most importantly, enforcement - tracking down where illegal guns are coming from. We know there are no gun factories in the neighborhoods here in the city of Philadelphia. So where are these guns coming from?

Focusing on and advocating for gun laws that will prevent individuals who have mental health issues from having guns in the first place - there are rumors that the individual involved in this particular shooting had some type of mental health issues. And so we want to focus on mental health as a key way to addressing gun violence and the public health epidemic and also making sure we are holding individuals accountable for picking up guns in the first place. And so we have to take a comprehensive approach. But there are way too many guns plaguing the streets of Philadelphia, as well as urban cities across this country.

SCHMITZ: Right. I mean, are there any cities or states in the U.S. that you feel have managed gun violence effectively? And is Philadelphia looking outwards to sort of learn from these places?

JOHNSON: Well, there were some - there are some cities in California. Oakland has a program that we have been taking a look at. And this is a program that focuses on violence interrupters - individuals who are going out in the community who have a background in addressing issues of gun violence, maybe have experience of being involved in gun violence in their own lives - as one of the key ways in addressing gun violence amongst young people in neighborhoods, but also taking a public health approach as well. And so we have to make sure that we are addressing this with a all-hands-on-deck approach. And that's the only way we're going to solve this issue of gun violence, not only in the city of Philadelphia, but also throughout the country.

SCHMITZ: That's Philadelphia City Council member Kenyatta Johnson. Mr. Johnson, thanks so much for your time.

JOHNSON: Thank you very much, Rob. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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