NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. (KLAS) — Democratic Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford was 19 when a gunman shot and killed his father. Now, 30 years later, he hopes his experience prompts change through programs aimed at keeping young people away from violence.
“Someone chose violence and took his life,” Horsford said. “That doesn’t have to be.”
The congressman’s “Break the Cycle of Violence Act” would prompt the federal government to invest in community-based opportunities and jobs for teenagers and young adults. The legislation also targets gun violence survivors through hospital-based services to deter retaliation.
“We’re talking about breaking the cycle of violence so that no one has to experience it,” Horsford said.
In 1992, while Horsford was a college student in Reno, Nevada, his father, Gary Shelton, was shot and killed at a North Las Vegas convenience store. Shelton, who was working as a cook, took a bullet to his chest and died on the way to the hospital.
“I get a call saying, ‘Your dad is dead,’” the congressman remembered about that day. “It was trauma for all of us and our entire family, and again, I tried to turn that pain into a sense of purpose.”
Seventy-five percent of homicides are committed with a gun, data from Horsford’s office reveals, adding gunshot victims in urban hospitals are nearly 50% more likely to be back in an emergency room within five years.
Data provided from the congressman’s office also shows Black children and teenagers are 14 times more likely to be shot and killed than their white counterparts.
“You don’t give them anything else to do, what do you want them to do?” Horsford said about the need for local programs for young people. “That can help them before violence ever occurs, how to build resilience, how to understand their value, how to resolve conflict.”
Young people, like 19-year-old Sean’Jerrion Coleman.
“I kind of feel like, if you get shot in the face, and you don’t change, what are you doing?” Coleman questioned. “I was on the streets at 16, 17. Being in the streets, you just learn you adapt, or you die.”
Coleman survived a shooting in 2019. He too is turning that scar into a newfound self-confidence. He is the president of an advisory council for teenagers at Nevada Partners in North Las Vegas. The program he helps run gives teenagers an opportunity to participate in their community.
“It’s a chance to be the change you want to see,” he said. “That’s what I always say.”
Coleman has also taken up poetry, writing a new chapter for himself and dozens of his friends.
“They plug you into programs, and they set you up with people who could move you in a path that you really want to go,” he explained.
“I didn’t have the opportunity for my dad to see me graduate from college,” Horsford said. “For him to see me get married. For my three kids to have the chance to meet their grandfather.”
For the congressman, the proposal is about investing in another way to reduce crime and prevent other lives from being stolen. At a proposed cost of $6.5 billion, $5 billion of which is already in the president’s budget, he said it is a win-win.
A recent report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office found gun violence costs the country $280 billion a year, which equals about $700 per American.
“My job is to try to give somebody else an opportunity he didn’t have — a trauma that I experienced, that my family experienced — that too many family members throughout Southern Nevada. And I never want my community to be labeled as violent,” Horsford told us.
Democratic Nevada Rep. Dina Titus is a cosponsor of the bill, as are 48 other members of Congress. No Republicans have signed on as cosponsors. The national Republican Party declined to comment.