THE BLOG
09/19/2011 02:32 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2011

For Violence Prevention, Better Enforcement Is Needed

The tragic shootings on South Capitol Street S.E. that David Catania wrote about on the Huffington Post are a cause for concern and at least some of the proposals contained in his South Capitol Street Memorial Act are worthy ones. But I'm not sure that what Catania proposes would have done anything to prevent the tragedy in question.

Here are the facts: the South Capitol Street shootings took place in the early evening outside of school hours (although one alleged perpetrator, unnamed in media reports because he is only 14) appears to have been chronically truant. The youth involved, according to the Washington Post, was already under close supervision of D.C.'s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and appears to have escaped from its supervision prior to the shootings (a violation of one existing law), driven a car without a drivers' license (another violation of existing law), and obtained firearms (also already illegal in D.C.)

Even if the event happened during school, stronger truancy laws could not have prevented the immediate incident if these existing laws did not. And while better school-based behavioral health interventions could have possibly helped the alleged perpetrator early on, his long criminal record before the event indicates deep problems that DYRS should have been confronting even if schools had missed them. In short, enforcement of existing laws could have prevented the event and new ones aren't necessarily needed.

All that said, I don't necessarily oppose what Catania is trying to do and I might even vote for some of his proposals were I a member of the Council. But I'm not sure if the teachers in an already struggling school system should spend even more time on complex, technical issues (such as behavioral mental health) on which they have little formal training. I'm even less sure that council-mandated tweaks to truancy laws (which, if I'm reading the regulations right, could mostly be changed through rulemaking) are necessary.

Strong families, well-run mediating institutions, and effective law enforcement can help prevent tragedies like the one that happened on South Capitol Street. Creating more laws, regulations, boards and commissions won't necessarily do that.