Local groups combine forces to defeat gun violence

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Joining forces in the struggle to eliminate gun violence and other forms of violence in Mississippi, Moms for Action and the Strong Arms of Mississippi lobby state legislators at the Capitol in support of bills banning sales of weapons to minors and the mentally impaired. Representing Strongs Arms are, left to right, Terun Moore and Benny Ivey (standing); and representing Moms Demand Action, Mary Helen Abel, L. Patricia Ice, Dr. Lorenzo Neal, and Jackson Advocate Government/Politics Writer Emmanuel Williams. (Photo by Earnest McBride)

It was no chance gathering in the lobby of the Mississippi State Capitol on January 26, exactly a week before the Feb. 1-7 observation of National Gun Violence Survivors Week.

The combined group was there to remind the state’s legislators and the greater public of the recurring tragedies caused by the unnecessary, continuous loss of human life in these United States. And they wanted to do something about it.

The day after the Sandy Hook Massacre of December 14, 2012 that took the lives of 20 elementary school children and six staff members in Newtown, Connecticut, media specialist Shannon Watts started up a Facebook campaign that overnight became Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Beginning on December 15, 2012, Moms Demand Action soon blossomed into a national movement with more than 10 million members, a chapter in every state, and a support group in most American cities.

The 20-year-old murderer was too young to buy a handgun in his state, but he was able to buy several rifles. Every weapon he used had a legal stamp on it, a crime report says. Watts, a mother of five, wanted to put an end to this kind of madness that the gun culture in America seemed to empower.

The Mississippi chapter of Moms Demand Action has joined forces with the Strong Arms of Mississippi to attempt to achieve Watts’ goal for Jackson in particular, and for Mississippi as a whole. 

“We’re a group of mothers and others who really work to push back against bad legislation in state houses across the country,” said Mary Helen Abel, the former “lead” of the Mississippi chapter. Instead of using titles such as president or chair, Moms for Action designates its leadership as “leads,” a member of the organization explained.

“We advocate for good legislation, instead.” Abel said. “It’s common-sense gun policy. Gun violence prevention. Common-sense things we know work.

“I grew up in a family of hunters, and I’ve always lived in a house with guns. I believe in the Second Amendment, and the people’s right to keep and bear arms. I also believe that not everybody should be able to get a gun. And there are certain kinds of guns that nobody needs to have on the streets of America.”

The effectiveness of Moms for Action in Mississippi has been a mixed bag, some wins, some losses, she said.

“Our organization has done a lot of good in Mississippi. We have had a lot of wins in Mississippi. And we haven’t had a lot of wins. Here it is about a lot more than just one’s own self. It’s more about being heard and being seen so that people will know that there are those of us who do not agree with what’s happening.”


Standing beside Abel, the duo of Benny Ivey and Terun Moore represented the Strong Arms of Mississippi, an anti-violence and community development group that started out as Strong Arms of Jackson in 2018, but has widened its outreach to include the entire state.

“We started out as the Strong Arms of Jackson and in Rankin County as the Strong Arms of Rankin,” Ivey said. “We rebranded to Strongs Arms of Mississippi because there’re kids everywhere – not just kids in Jackson or Rankin – but kids all over the state who need guidance and mentorship. So, we changed the name to Strong Arms of Mississippi because we planned to branch out farther. 

“We changed the name about a year ago,” he said. “It went well for us during the water crisis. We partnered with some local groups and with some grant money awarded us we were able to supply water to a broad segment of our community.”

Based at the Sykes Community Center in South Jackson, the Strong Arms team effort at providing clean drinking water has become a year-round activity, Ivey said. “We also partnered with another organization that built water boxes large enough in size to have a water filtration system built inside, and it hooks up to the water system in the building so that the water that comes out of the box is clean and drinkable. We have big 5-gallon and 3-gallon jugs that members of the community come by to pick up all the time and not just during this water crisis. The water boxes have helped in this ongoing, never ending water crisis.”


Strong Arms of Mississippi co-founder Terun Moore, 42, stresses the importance of pointing the young people of the greater Jackson community towards a rewarding life without violence or a term in prison.

“I’m a person who once committed acts of violence myself as a teenager. From my experience in prison for 19 years, I realized where I went wrong and why I landed at that point. When I got free again, I wanted to do something to help prevent the kids from making the same mistakes or going down the path I went.

“We were instrumental in creating the Credible Messenger Program Initiative here in Jackson,” Moore said. “We went around the country to summit meetings and learned enough about it, came back and met with members of the community to see what they thought would be good for their kids and what they thought was lacking or missing. Most importantly, we just got out in street and started listening to the kids. We wanted to find out what they felt was missing in their lives. Then I just tried to stand in their shoes and remember how I felt during the time when I was a teenager.”

Following the guidelines of the Credible Messenger Mentoring Movement (CM3), Moore and his associates sought to break the cycle of violence and incarceration that plagued certain communities in Jackson. They also incorporated the principles of the Communications for Youth Program based in New York.

“We partnered with them,” he said. “But it’s our own thing in Mississippi. We developed our own program here.”

Another program that has brought about changes in select communities within the greater Jackson area has been Operation Cure Violence and the associated program, Operation Good, in the Oak Forest Community.

“This is an everyday commitment on our part,” Moore said. “It’s like a way of life, or a family. Every kid is assigned a Credible Messenger, and there’s a certain amount of time you have to put in to deal with these kids. It lends to checking in with their parents, making sure they’re doing okay in school, and also just trying to keep on tap. We start with short term goals and try to see them complete these goals in the span of time, or figuring out what’s needed to help reach their full potential and not fall into the traps that are so easy to fall into in these streets right now.”

Reports from the People’s Advocacy Institute in Jackson showed that 57 possible felonies within a 46-block area had been prevented due to intervention by Operation Good.


Jackson Attorney L. Patricia Ice serves as the legislative “lead” for the Moms Demand Action group.

“We are trying to prevent and eliminate gun violence in Mississippi, which is a huge task,” said Ice, whose regular job is that of legal counsel for the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance. “One of the things I’m interested in is getting common sense gun legislation here. So, I have a couple of bills I’m interested in.”

Ice pointed out three specific pieces of legislation that dealt with the gun violence issue: House Bills 80 and 99, notifying the Department of Public Safety of persons determined to be mentally incompetent and barring their access to firearms (HB 80), and prohibiting the sale of assault weapons to minors (HB99). Senate Bill 2407 declared it unlawful for a minor to purchase a firearm.

All three bills died in committee at the January 31 deadline.

Ice said her organization was sharing the information table with the Strong Arms of Mississippi group, whose concern is for the abatement of all categories of violence. Moms for Action, however, is solely concerned with halting and elimination gun violence.

Sitting at Ice’s side, Dr. Lorenzo Neal, a Christian minister and a member of Moms for Action since 2016, says he was attracted to the group because of a number of incidents of lethal gun violence in his family.

“I am a Senior Fellow with the Survivor Network, the arm of every town that deals directly with those who have been affected by gun violence,” he said. “ I lost my mother and a nephew and several other family members and friends to gun violence. Mom lost her life to domestic violence involving a gun in 1980. She was 25. My nephew was killed in 2016. He was 18. I’ve been involved since then.”

Neal is very much aware of the impact Moms for Action has had on the nation.

“Across the country we’re seeing a wonderful effort of gun violence prevention,” he said. “Here in Mississippi, we had a lot of progress prior to the Covid pandemic. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the gun violence increase over the last three years. But there’s still a lot of effort being made. As you see, here in Mississippi, legislation is being presented that 1) takes into consideration gun owners like myself – responsible gun owners; and 2) also empathizes with and consoles victims and persons who have been impacted by gun violence.”

“Mary Helen used to be the state lead. We’re all volunteers. And we all want to stop gun violence. We don’t all have titles. There are some who just come to our events.”

Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence in America is a unit under Everytown.org.


In 2021, the FBI changed its annual crime reporting system for its Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program to the new National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).

“As recommended by our law enforcement partners and approved by the FBI,” the announcement said, “the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program retired the Summary Reporting System (SRS) – an aggregate monthly tally of crimes – and transitioned to a NIBRS-only data collection on January 1, 2021. Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to start implementing NIBRS now.

The Traditional UCR was instituted in 1930 and was published yearly based on data gathered under the Crime in the United States (CIUS) system. It was also called the Summary Reporting System (SRS).

Under the old system the FBI reported violent crime as being composed of four offenses: (1) murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, (2) forcible rape, (3)robbery, and (4) aggravated assault. In this reporting system, violent crimes were defined as those offenses which involve force or threat of force.

Under the NIBRS system, in use since 2011 but only officially adopted in January 2021, there are three categories of crimes: Crimes against persons, crimes against property, and crimes against society.

All crimes are classified into two groups: Group A Offenses (numbering 54 in toto) include: Assault Offenses; Homicide Offenses; and Sex Offenses. While not defined as violent crimes, several other serious offenses may be included on a summary list of violent crimes: that is, Kidnapping and Abduction, Human Trafficking, and Robbery.

Group B Offenses: numbering 10 in all, were listed as Bad Checks, Family Offenses, Nonviolent Curfew/Loitering/Vagrancy Violations, Liquor Law Violations, Disorderly Conduct, Peeping Tom, Driving Under the Influence, Trespass of Real Property, Drunkenness, and All Other Offenses.

The basic difference in the two systems of data gathering and reporting is that the new NIMBRS system also estimates the amount of arson committed each year, number of drug offenses by drug type, and frequency of victimization. Further, the NIBRS system estimates victim and arrestee demographics, including age, sex, and race.

Due to the newness of the NIBRS data collecting system adopted in 2021, however, the FBI was hesitant or unwilling to make comparisons of crimes in previous years as it had done under the (CIUS) system.

Jackson, for instance, under the old system that ran through December 2020, was listed as having a total of 3,434 violent crime incidents, and there were 4,103 offenses reported across Mississippi by 137 other law enforcement agencies that submitted National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data. That number covered 57 percent of the total population.

“Jackson’s record 155 homicides in 2021 was the highest per capita murder rate in the nation. Higher than Birmingham, Atlanta, Detroit, and even Chicago, the city with the most overall slayings in 2021, the Clarion-Ledger reported.”

In the last year of the traditional reporting of murder and violence, Jackson had the ignoble distinction of being listed number one for murder per capita and was ranked number 12 for overall violence in the USA in 2021.

“In 2021,” according to a CNN report, “Jackson was named the Murder Capital of the U.S. It reported 155 murders and had a murder rate of 99.54 per 100,000 people.”

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Local groups combine forces to defeat gun violence

By Earnest McBride
February 13, 2023