AUSTIN, Texas — It's been nearly two weeks since a mass shooting on Sixth Street in Downtown Austin left one victim dead and more than a dozen others wounded. On Tuesday, local authorities said they are now focusing on a new suspect in the shooting.
President Joe Biden announced new efforts Wednesday to stem a rising national tide of violent crime, declaring the federal government is “taking on the bad actors doing bad things to our communities.” In Biden's speech, he announced a "zero tolerance" policy that gives no leeway to gun dealers who fail to comply with federal law.
On Wednesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler addressed gun violence, saying "now is the time to act."
"Austin is a safe city and, while it does not have the level of gun violence seen in so many other big cities, we are seeing increases that we must address," said Adler. "Last week, I was proud to join mayors across the country to seek help from the White House in ending gun violence in all our communities. I am grateful to my fellow mayors for standing with Austin, and incredibly pleased to see that what we were requesting is consistent with the direction the Biden-Harris administration has been wanting to move. As President Biden said today, we are experiencing an epidemic of gun violence in this country like never seen before, and we know community-based violent crime initiatives are a vital component to preventing violence before it occurs."
Good Morning America (GMA) reported Wednesday that crime is up 200% in Austin, reflecting the overall trend of an uptick of violence in cities across the country.
Amy Robach: Mayor Adler, thank you so much for being with us. And let's start with that mass shooting in Austin, unfortunately. The police announcing a new suspect: What do we know right now?
Austin Mayor Steve Adler: "Right now, we're still heartbroken over Mr. Cantor's death visiting our city. We know that there were too many people, too young, guns possessed by people that, that did not have the legal ability to have those guns, illegal weapons. And we're seeing that proliferation not only in Austin but in cities around the country. Based on the investigation that continues, the police have identified who it was that was doing the shooting, and we're seeking that person now to arrest them. You know, this is something that is impacting not just Austin but cities across the country. Even in a city like Austin that continues to be one of the safest big cities in the country, we're seeing increases right now and gun violence."
T.J. Holmes: And as Amy just mentioned a moment ago, crime being up 200% in your city. We are talking about also 10 mass shootings we've seen in the country just since Friday, 200 in 2021. I guess we could expect some uptick once people started coming back out and we started opening back up – but is something else at play, in your opinion?
Adler: "Has to be, has to be. And it doesn't look like it's tied to local policies or decisions because it’s happening across the country. Huge percentage increase in Austin, not really an increase in absolute numbers. About 20 increase in homicides, which is 20 way too many. But our numbers start out so small. But it's the same thing we're seeing now in literally every city across the country. And people don't know what it is. I don't know if it's pandemic-related, I don't know if it's the harshness of the political discourse that's happening in the country, people more on edge, whether it's because people have been home and not able to be out in the in the community. There is something that's happening here, post-pandemic, across the country. And we need to figure it out so that we can stop it."
Robach: Yeah, there is something happening for sure. That's undeniable. I know you met with mayors across this country and you, along with mayors from Dayton, Chicago, Houston, Savannah, demanded President Biden take action to do something about this massive uptick in gun violence. He is expected to make an announcement later today [June 23]. What are you hoping to see and hear from President Biden?
Adler: "Well, I'm excited to see the attention and the increased focus on this issue because it is real. Cities, communities across the country need additional resources, with local law enforcement to be able to find these illegal weapons. We need more help with red flag laws across the country to prevent people that shouldn't have weapons [from] getting them. There's low-hanging fruit here, and reasonable gun regulation has wide support across the country and we need to take advantage of those things. Additional funding for community violence intervention efforts, additional money in helping kids find jobs. There's a lot that the president could do that would be really helpful."
Holmes: You talk about what can be helpful, but you also said a moment ago that we have to figure out what's going on and what's at the root of it. Can you really solve the problem if you don't exactly know what's causing it? Right? You take some guns away, we provide jobs and I guess that could help – but unless we figure it out, do you think we're at a disadvantage still by trying to solve a problem we really don't know the cause of?
Adler: "Huge disadvantage. And that's why, again, we point to the fact that it's happening everywhere. You know, cities across the country are really focusing on local policies and they're going to get lost if they do that in terms of being able to identify what the real cause of this is. But you're absolutely right. We have to be able to identify that. In the meantime though, we can treat some of the symptoms. We know there are too many illegal guns being trafficked, whether they're showing up in crimes with increased frequency. We need to figure out what's going on and until we do that, we're not going to be able to be most effective. But as we're doing that, we have to address the symptoms we see.
Robach: Mayor Adler, just want to check in with you on your COVID-19 situation. Of course, we're seeing this Delta variant pop up – it's obviously a big concern. The CDC saying, "Hey, this is a lot more transmissible." So, I'm curious where you are in Austin on vaccinations and how concerned are you about this variant?
Adler: "You know, I'm concerned about the variant. Everybody is. Austin [is in a] relatively strong position, just under 70%, we should reach that very shortly. We have a community that really got behind masking and participating. The mortality rate in Austin [is] less than half of the state average mortality rate. That's less than half of the national average. So, we're in a better place than many people.
We still have large parts of our community, mostly communities of color, that we have not been as effective in getting the vaccine out. So, we're doing a lot more decentralized work to get it to where it is most needed. It's something that the whole country, again, really needs to put their shoulder into. The more we can push down overall infectivity in communities, which means increasing vaccination levels, that's the best work we could do to protect ourselves against this variant and probably other variants that will come after that. We just need people to really focus: It is safe, it is effective and it's free."
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