Krist Boardman

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In a twist that must be encouraging to gun owners, some new programs in northeastern states have been able to sharply reduce gun murders without traditional gun control measures, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The Giffords Center was named after Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived a gunshot wound to her head during an outdoor meeting with her constituents.

Without waiting for the U.S. Congress to fund studies on gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control, or at Johns Hopkins University, the states of New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut have forged ahead with programs that have significantly reduced gun homicides by focusing on social patterns of the people most likely to be affected.

Young black men constitute a mere 6 percent of the population, but are involved in over 60 percent of the gun homicides nationally. There are 13,000 gun murders annually and over 8,500 of them involve this group. The programs in these states have discovered that prevention measures have helped these states save significant monies.

For example, law enforcement and health costs paid at public expense are estimated to be $488,000 for a homicide and more than $71,000 for a non-fatal shooting. A $1 million investment in a program that prevents just 3 homicides pays for itself and then some, say advocates. Others have estimated that for every public dollar spent on intervention programs, $7 is saved from costs associated with gun violence within this targeted group.

Gun violence costs states hundreds of millions of dollars each year in health care and criminal justice expenses alone, says Mike McLively, director of the Urban Gun Violence Initiative of the Giffords Center. “Advocates say spending money on prevention actually saves taxpayers’ money.”

In New York the estimated cost of gun violence is $5.6 billion per year, while the state’s annual investment in gun violence prevention is just $20 million. In the 6 years since these programs have been in place, the gun violence rate in New York has fallen by 23 percent. Massachusetts has seen a drop of 35 percent and Connecticut 16 percent. Yet 45 percent of the states have not made any investment in these solutions.

Recently Maryland set aside $5 million to create a program, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf just announced a $1.5 million Gun Violence Reduction Initiative. The Keystone State’s effort will grant money to municipalities seeking to implement violence prevention strategies to make neighborhoods more peaceful. So far in Maryland details of these programs have not been announced, but there should be ample opportunity given the gun violence problems in Baltimore and elsewhere that need to be addressed.

In Boston some key demographics revealed that just 1 percent of the youth were involved in more than half of the shootings. Also, a study of areas where shootings occurred over a 30-year period showed that 70 percent of the shootings occurred in just 5 percent of the city. These studies have helped police and other authorities focus on where to concentrate their efforts.

Under a variety of names in each jurisdiction, these efforts focus on people and places deemed to be at high risk for gun violence. They implement evidence-based strategies and provide robust state level coordination and evaluation. They also develop community input and engagement, while committing to long-term stable funding.

The interventions also work at trying to break the school-to-prison pipeline and curb recidivism. It is important also to prevent the recurrence of violence and to provide other opportunities for completion of education and skills training and employment.

First published May 16, 2018.

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