Gun violence continues to rise in Wilmington. A recent News Journal investigation found Wilmington leads the nation in per capita youth gun violence.
In response, Wilmington City Councilman Bob Williams plans to reintroduce an ordinance mandating a gun offender registry. But others have reservations.
Williams first introduced a gun registry ordinance in June. It required firearm offenders to register with police just days after returning home from jail, which drew the criticism of many, including ACLU of Delaware staff attorney Ryan Tack-Hooper.
“It is I think a distraction of a policy," Tack-Hooper said. "The police can learn if someone has been convicted of a gun crime. They have access to the database. So the idea that you’re gonna force the person to come and report that to you seems a little odd. They should just have better data gathering if that’s a problem.”
Tack-Hooper and others also worry the registry would negatively impact the already fragile relationship between the community and police. He adds there are other fundamental flaws with the original plan.
"The police get to sort of decide what questions they can force that person to answer. And that's not how our system works," Tack-Hooper said. "The police don't get to force people to answer their questions on pain of going back to prison."
But Williams insists it would help officers stay in touch with offenders, and help prevent repeat offenses.
“It actually gives the offenders reason to not re-offend knowing that the police are monitoring them," Williams said.
Some council members are concerned the original ordinance would disproportionately affect the city’s African American community. That's why Williams is currently re-working the ordinance, modeled after a policy in Baltimore.
Research into the effectiveness of the gun registry on gun violence reduction is inconclusive. But research from the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found Baltimore's policy significantly reduced recidivism. That policy has officers making home visits instead of requiring offenders to check in with police.
"It’s not an ordinance that’s meant to suppress or oppress any classification of person, other than those that are offenders with weapons," Williams said. Williams adds he doesn’t think the registry would duplicate efforts of Probation and Parole. He argues it would instead build on Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy’s plans to establish a peer-to-peer “call in” model to better engage with offenders.
Tack-Hooper says he'll wait to see a copy of the new ordinance before casting judgment.
"Seeing politicians take action with respect to gun violence in Wilmington is a good thing," Tack-Hooper said. "It should be a much more serious political issue than the attention that is given to it."