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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Free Gunlocks, Music Video Offered As Milwaukee Tries To Reduce Gun Violence

Screen capture from Put Em' Down music video
A woman holds a sign that reads Put The Guns Down in the Put Em' Down music video.

New efforts to reduce gun violence are underway in the Milwaukee area. One new plan involves having city of Milwaukee firefighters responding to an emergency call hand out free gun safety locks to any city resident who wants one.

The gunlocks, which use a small cable and padlock through the firing mechanism, or barrel, to prevent a gun from firing, will also be available at Milwaukee fire stations.

The Milwaukee County Division of Behavioral Health is paying for the giveaway at a cost of about $5,000.  Prevention coordinator Nzinga Khalid says one goal of the gunlocks is to deter people from committing suicide.

Credit Screen capture from virtual press conference
Nzinga Khalid of the Milwaukee County Division of Behavioral Health speaking at a press conference on Nov. 23.

"Firearms suicide make up half of all suicides. Guns aren't the most common way to attempt suicide. But they are the most fatal. Firearms suicides make up almost two-thirds of all gun-related deaths. The risk of dying by suicide for youth is four to ten times higher in homes with guns. By distributing gunlocks, we hope to prevent these tragedies,” Khalid said Monday, during a virtual news conference.

She said people asking for a gunlock will not be asked for any personal information.

The city of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention is also a partner in the effort. It comes as the city is struggling with a record number of homicides this year. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel databaseputs the latest total at 172, with guns being the cause of death in 88% of the cases.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said many other local shootings leave people wounded. He said that includes young people, mentioning 13 and 14 year olds injured in the last few days. Barrett noted the alleged shooter at Mayfair is 15.

"Now, what I don't know is who had the gun or how they got the gun. That's another issue. We have seen a pretty dramatic increase in the number of seized guns this year from the Milwaukee Police Department. But, I think we would all agree in the wrong hands, when guns are accidentally discharged, are two issues we ought to be able to deal with much, much more effectively,” Barrett said.

The mayor also has an emphatic safety message for parents with a gun in their house: "Lock the gun! Lock the gun up!"

The Milwaukee Fire Department also says coming soon, but not yet, the free gunlocks will be available at COVID-19 testing stations in the city.

Another local campaign involving the Office of Violence Prevention and Milwaukee volunteers urges people to put guns down.

A Milwaukee-produced song and a video, titled Put Em' Down, are largely the idea of Tracey Dent, founder of the local groups Voices Against Violence and the Milwaukee Coalition Against Hate. Dent said he hopes music reaches what he views as the key people.

"Everybody loves music. Everybody listens to music. So, then, who is my target audience? My target audience are the ones that actually, you know, I hate to say it but, the ones that listen to a certain type of hip-hop music  is the majority of the ones committing the violence and stuff like that," he said.

While nationally, some music supporters say America has a gun problem, not a hip-hop problem, Dent said at least one local radio station, V100.7, is featuring the song on its website. He said he also hopes the song gets a lot of play through social media.

Reggie Moore directs the Office of Violence Prevention. He said the song is an example of what artists and activists can do to help reduce gun violence.

Moore emphasized the entire community has a role to play. "You know, even if it's looking out for the neighbors on your block. Making sure that people who are struggling have food, and doing everything we can to take care of each other!," he said.

So far this year, 79% of Milwaukee homicide victims are male, 73% are Black and 67% are between the ages of 18 and 39.

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