As we enter a new year, it is abundantly clear that two things must be on top of our nation’s agenda: reforming our broken criminal justice system and reducing gun violence. As mayor of Denver, I did my best to bring our local crime rate down by 40 percent while also combating racial injustice, and as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I called for a nationwide rally to press for stricter gun control following the Columbine shootings in April 1999.
Both sentencing reform and expanded background checks are of utmost necessity for Colorado moving forward. Our prison population was recently estimated to stop dropping and start rising — by 4 percent by next year. The general public might associate Colorado with the Supermax in Florence and its collection of truly horrifying newsmakers, but most of our prisons are in fact state-run, and the vast majority of our prisoners will reenter society. Colorado, and the country as a whole, deserves a system that fights crime while respecting justice.
Colorado is no stranger to mass shootings: from Columbine to Aurora to the shooting at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Coloradans are sick of seeing the state’s own as victims of tragic gun violence and overwhelmingly support reform. Over 80 percent of Coloradans support background checks required on all gun sales, and the national electorate shows similar support, with over two-thirds of all Americans favoring President Obama’s plan to expand background checks. This type of vast support, in both Colorado and the nation as a whole, demands action on behalf of our congressmen, senators, and, most importantly, our president.
While President Obama has taken the first step in pushing criminal justice reform and expanded background checks for guns to the forefront of the national conversation, most of the implementation of these reforms may well lie with the next president.
Hillary Clinton has been at the forefront in the fight for criminal justice reforms and been a staunch advocate for reducing disparate sentencing measures. Early in her career, Hillary fought for juvenile offenders at the Children’s Defense Fund and advocated for inmates at the legal aid clinic at the University of Arkansas School of Law. In the Senate, she cosponsored legislation to eliminate mandatory minimums for first-time possessors of crack cocaine.
And, more recently, she unveiled key components of her criminal justice platform — including proposed laws to end racial profiling, reclassify marijuana and shorten mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders. That work and those reforms go a long way to helping reunite families. And they make room for research-backed programs that treat substance abuse for what it is, rather than punish people for punishment’s sake.
There are few candidates, in my opinion, who have been as forceful and forthright as Hillary Clinton has been about the necessity of reducing gun violence. She has put out a robust plan that not only includes expanding background checks but also closes the “Charleston Loophole” and repeals the gun industry’s immunity protection, an NRA-influenced measure that has held Congress hostage for decades. Clinton’s plan has been hailed by gun safety advocates everywhere, and she was recently endorsed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who hailed her “demonstrated commitment” to end gun violence, and Gabby Giffords, who cited her drive to “never, ever sh[y] away from a tough fight” as reasons they support her for president.
Hillary Clinton also recently met with the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner to express sympathy for the unjust killings of their sons and open up a discussion about how to reduce gun violence so more mothers don’t have to go through the loss they’ve experienced. Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, in her recent endorsement of Clinton, said Hillary “truly heard [her], and understood the depth of [her] loss.” She declared that Clinton was “tough enough to wage this fight” against the NRA and Republicans “who refuse to acknowledge the problem of senseless gun violence.” And after the horrific dash-cam video was released showing Laquan McDonald’s tragic death in Chicago, Clinton called for a full investigation by the Department of Justice, saying McDonald’s family “deserves justice and accountability” for the senseless killing and reaffirmed her commitment to “ensuring that all our citizens and communities are protected and respected.”
The next president of the United States can take a leading role in repairing a broken criminal justice system and implementing strong, commonsense gun safety laws. These issues are urgent matters for Republicans and Democrats, and for all 50 states. They are issues that deeply affect Denver and hundreds of other parts of the country, urban and rural alike. Hillary Clinton has a plan, and hers is the best combination of experience and passion to end mass incarceration, restore criminal justice and reduce the senseless violence that occurs when guns get into the wrong hands.
Wellington Webb served as Denver’s first African American mayor from 1991-2003. He is the only mayor to be elected president to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Conference of Black Mayors and the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.