Written by Poli Rijos, coordinator for the Gun Violence: A Public Health Crisis initiative at Washington University in St. Louis.
As of September 15, 2015, the City of St. Louis has been affected by over 145 murders. During recent conversations with law enforcement officials, I learned that most gun violence can be localized to specific areas of the city and can be attributed to a small group of individuals, which provides us with a better understanding and more positive outlook on how to approach gun violence as a public health issue. How and when did gun violence become a public health issue that needs immediate attention?
In 2012, the CDC predicted that in 2015, guns would kill more young Americans under the age of 25 than cars. More than a quarter of teens age 15 and over are dying due to gun violence. Gun violence is not only burdening our health care system and health care providers but is also affecting victims’ families and the economy of our region.
Access to guns has been blamed as a big contributor to the gun violence that has affected our region. The Chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has mentioned that access to guns by criminals have dramatically increased due to theft out of vehicles. Since private citizens are not allowed to carry their concealed weapons to certain establishments, they resort to leaving their guns in their cars. Agencies like Women’s Voices Raised recommend that individuals reach out to programs like their own “Lock it for Love.” Lock it for Love gives private citizens access to gun locks. Safe storage of guns is one of the many options that could help prevent more deaths in the St. Louis Region.
Luckily, we live in a region where citizens and agencies have renewed their commitment to decreasing gun violence. Many agencies, including the Mayor’s Office, the Circuit Attorney’s Office, Parole and Probation, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the FBI, the St. Louis Initiative to Reduce Violence, Better Family Life, United Way, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, local hospitals, and many more, have partnered to collaborate. These agencies are using or exploring different approaches to reduce gun violence. Methods include:
- focused deterrence (1)
- hospital-based violence intervention programs (2)
- violence “interruption” (3)
- community mobilization, outreach, and norms change
- school-based violence prevention programs
It will take time, coordinated effort, financial support, and rigorous evaluation to find out which interventions will benefit our region.
7 recommendations to move forward
According to Institute scholar and Brown School faculty member Jason Q. Purnell, PhD, the following 7 recommendations may put us in a path to reduce gun violence and improve the health of our region.
- Create a dedicated funding stream to provide adequate resources to support coordination and the sustainable provision of services.
- Create a permanent collaborative group with representation from key sectors and systems (e.g., law enforcement, criminal justice, hospitals, schools, community-based health and human service organizations, faith-based organizations, community members with a personal history or direct experience with violent crime perpetration and/or victimization) that : a) Guides efforts to coordinate activities to be complementary and have maximum impact; b) Continuously communicates regarding programmatic activities; c) Shares common methods and metrics for assessing impact, and; d) Shares financial, technical, and human resources to accomplish shared goals
- Build community capacity and buy-in for a community-wide, multi-systemic approach to gun violence reduction.
- Identify a fiscal agent and coordinating organization that will manage the collaborative group’s activities.
- Assess the capacity of the current system of services to be used by individuals at high risk for gun violence as well as members of their social networks. This includes a comprehensive inventory of all existing projects, programs, coalitions, and initiatives working on gun violence in St. Louis. Also use appropriate technological tools to connect the system of service providers for optimal tracking of client contact, service provision, and outcomes.
- Use evidence-based or evidence-informed interventions that serve high-risk individuals and their immediate social networks (e.g., family, friends, and other close associates).
- Evaluate all interventions with input from a permanent, regional collaboration among universities and other institutions with expertise in criminology, social service delivery, evidence-based practices, and public health.
The Institute recently curated exhibits at two libraries on campus with books, articles, and other resources on gun violence as a public health issue. The exhibits are on view through Oct. 2, and you can learn more by digging into our lists of suggested readings any time.
Additional resources in the St. Louis region
- Interactive: Gunfire in St. Louis | from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- St. Louis Initiative to Reduce Violence
- Crime Victim Advocacy Center | If you or your family has survived a crime, please contact the Crime Victim Advocacy Center.
1) Braga, A.A., & Weisburd, D.L. (2015). Focused deterrence and the prevention of violent gun injuries: Practice theoretical principles, and scientific evidence. Annual Review of Public Health, 36, 55-68.
2) Purtle, J., Rich, L.J., Bloom, S.L., Rich, J.A., & Corbin, T.J. (2015). Cost-benefit analysis simulation of a hospital-based violence intervention program. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 48, 162-169.
3) Butts, J. A., Gouvis Roman, C., Bostwick, L., & Porter, J. R. (2015). Cure Violence: A public health model to reduce gun violence. Annual Review of Public Health, 36, 39-53.