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Lawyers Band Together To Fight Gun Violence


Eight thousand eight hundred and fifty-five - according to the FBI, that's the number of Americans killed in gun murders in 2012. Nearly 123,000 were robbed at gun point - more than 142,000 assaulted with a firearm.

Next week, a group of city prosecutors from around the country will gather in Atlanta to share ideas in the battle against gun violence. I recently spoke with Cyrus Vance, the district attorney of Manhattan, and Mike Feuer the city attorney of Los Angeles - the leaders of this new group, Prosecutors Against Gun Violence. Cyrus Vance, welcome to the program.

CYRUS VANCE: Thanks for having me.

RATH: And Mike Feuer, welcome to you as well.

MIKE FEUER: It's great to be here.

RATH: So what inspired you to begin this new group? Was there a particular incident?

FEUER: No actually, one of the goals we have is not to be reactive to a specific tragedy of the moment but rather to get ahead of the curve. Prosecutors have a very powerful voice in the justice system and we're very credible in the legislative process. We haven't really galvanized that focus before but this is a chance to do it at a moment when gun violence afflicts every major jurisdiction in the country every day.

RATH: And Cyrus Vance, what specifically can prosecutors do better when it comes to gun violence?

VANCE: Well, the beauty of this coalition that we've formed, which brings major city prosecutors from Seattle down to L.A., Boston to Miami, Detroit to Houston, is that we are all dealing with gun violence and its effect on our communities. And each of us has developed strategies to drive violence down.

I'm fascinated to know what's going on in Houston. And I can tell you that from Manhattan's perspective, our development of units like the crime strategies units that helps us work as an intelligence-based prosecution office, is something that I think my colleagues will also be interested in learning about.

FEUER: We're going to be learning about everything from how to combat the nexus between gangs and guns, how to deal with illegal weapons trafficking, how to do better about grappling with the connection between domestic violence and gun violence and mental health and gun violence.

RATH: I mean, that gets to what's probably about the most politically contentious issue there is. Obviously, addressing gun violence overlaps with the issue of gun control. How do you keep your efforts from getting bogged down in this very politically-fraught issue?

FEUER: We reflect broad geography and broad ideology. Prosecutors are not elected as Republicans or Democrats typically. We're elected on a nonpartisan basis in our jurisdictions. And I think that we'll be able to find some common ground around both our most effective prosecutorial approaches but also on some short list of objectives policy-wise.

VANCE: I think in our view as Republican and Democratically elected prosecutors from all over the country - red states and blue states - I think we all on this issue don't look at gun violence as a political issue, we really are looking at it as a public health and safety issue. And no matter what you believe about the Second Amendment, everybody believes that people should not be victimized by gun violence. Now, we're going to talk about how we make that happen in our various communities.

RATH: Finally, I wanted to ask, one of the most prominent incidents of gun violence this year was the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. And that exposed - there was a real rift that exposed between law enforcement and the people of color in the community there. Do prosecutors have a role to play in healing that rift?

FEUER: I can certainly say here in Los Angeles, we do. Our office is very neighborhood-oriented and very community-oriented. And we speak quite candidly about issues of youth, of race and how we can do better at assuring there is confidence in the efficacy and the fairness of the justice system in each of our neighborhoods. Because we know that for us to be effective prosecutors, communities have to want to interact with us, have to report crime, have to team up with us as witnesses and provide the evidence we need to effectively prosecute our cases. That collaboration is very deep. And I'm very proud in Los Angeles, while we still always in every jurisdiction have distance to travel, we've made great strides.

VANCE: Obviously, race and fairness in the justice system is an important issue in every city in America and it certainly is in our city. And I think we invest heavily financially in our preventative programming to keep kids out of trouble - for example, in our Manhattan neighborhoods. And in doing that we are binding the aspirations of our office with the futures of our children and their families. And that partnership is essential to have a healthy criminal justice process in any city.

RATH: Cyrus Vance is the district attorney for Manhattan. He joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks very much.

VANCE: Thank you.

RATH: And Mike Feuer is the city attorney for Los Angeles. He was here with me at NPR West. Thank you.

FEUER: Thank you, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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