A Public Health Approach to Gun Violence

So now we’ve heard from the NRA which asserts that we need to put armed police in every school, then adding, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

It sounds good, but as Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center said today in a statement, that’s been tried already — and it didn’t work. “There were TWO armed law enforcement agents present at Columbine High School during the assault by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that left 15 dead and 23 wounded. They twice engaged and fired at Eric Harris in an effort to stop the shooting, but were unsuccessful because they were outgunned by the assault weapons wielded by the two teens.”

And if you’re thinking that having a gun protects you from guns, think again. After all, Rachel Davis, Managing Director of the Prevention Institute points out, in Newtown, Adam Lanza first killed his mother, a gun enthusiast. “The first victim of this shooting was a gun owner who was not able to stop this from happening,” Davis says. “The problem of guns is they raise the risk of lethality.”

We are a society that craves simple solutions, yet violence is a complex problem. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done. While Davis favors an assault weapons ban, she says that’s only one piece of a comprehensive approach. “Another piece,” she adds, “is addressing mental health needs — that includes access to high quality mental health services, reducing the trauma people are exposed to and then addressing the trauma.”

Mass shootings in Newtown understandably capture widespread media attention, but remember that children are murdered every day by firearms. In 2010, according to CDC numbers, 1,260 children up to age 18 were killed by someone who used a gun. That’s more than three children every day — or 21 children in the week since Newtown.

Davis argues for broad community-based prevention programs. Davis points to “GRYD” — the Gang Reduction Youth Development program which has been in place for several years in Los Angeles. GRYD is multi-pronged. “It’s not one single thing,” Davis says, “but a combination of strategies and efforts that are coordinated in the neighborhoods that are most affected by violence.”

For example, in LA’s successful Summer Night Lights program, parks are open after dark — prime gang-activity time — with free food and extra programs. Families flock there.

And it’s effective. Here are some statistics from the Summer Night Lights website:

(Image from Summer Night Lights website)

Got that? “Gang related homicide” down 57 percent — those are real lives saved.

In a profile, the LA Times showed how GRYD also takes at-risk youngsters and not just stops violence but puts kids on a better path:

According to a study by the Urban Institute, since GRYD began operating, gang crimes have fallen by 21.6%, faster than crime overall in the city; in the two years before it opened, they dropped 14.9%. Moreover, GRYD is reaching large numbers of at-risk youngsters: Young people enrolled in the program were 29% less likely to skip class, while those from the same neighborhoods not in the program increased the amount they cut class by 53%.

What all these statistics show is that violence is preventable. “There’s growing evidence for it,” Davis concludes, “but there’s no simple solution for it. We need to put in comprehensive solutions that are working in places around the country.”

Learn More:

KQED Forum:
Living with Gun Violence

KQED Lowdown Blog:
The Geography of U.S. Gun Homicides;
The United States of Firearms: America’s Love Affair with the Gun

Fresh Air:
Assault-Style Weapons in the Civilian Market

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