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A public health epidemic that must be addressed

Apr 23, 2021
Editorial
Gun violence needs to be treated like the emergency that it is.

Gun violence is a public health crisis, but at the federal level we are neither doing enough to prevent it nor to mitigate its impacts. We have seen the mass shootings that have claimed the lives of shoppers, salon workers, and pedestrians so far this year. However, what causes deeper concern is how prevalent and pervasive gun violence is in the daily lives of our community members.

We are battling a public health epidemic, but we are not treating it that way. We must address the far-reaching health risks of gun violence, and the systemic racism that normalizes the deaths of young Black men. Each life lost to gun violence is a tragedy and unfortunately, deaths are not the only impact. For every shooting, countless people are traumatized, left to grieve a loved one, angered by the event, and increasingly anxious about the safety of their communities.

The mental health impacts of gun violence are both cause and effect of this tragedy. Without addressing the generations of trauma some communities have experienced, we will not be able to pull ourselves out of this epidemic. Of course, there are also the physical and financial costs we must address. People injured by gun violence often face challenging and expensive recoveries including surgeries and physical therapy. Many live with disabilities for the rest of their lives.

For decades, the biggest threat to the lives and safety of children and teenagers was automobile accidents. In response we mandated the use of seatbelts and car seats and created stricter safety guidelines for automobile manufacturing. Deaths by vehicle crashes declined significantly and have remained relatively low.

Today, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teenagers, with an estimated 1,800 children and teens shot to death each year. That means 1,800 empty school desks and chairs at family dinner tables. Black children and teenagers are 14 times more likely to be killed by a gun than white children. 

While I work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance gun violence prevention legislation, there is critical work that can, and is, being done by community leaders here in Chicago and across the nation to address the root causes of this epidemic.

Perhaps the most impactful step we can take to reduce gun violence is to follow the lead of these community organizations in community investment. There are many forms of successful community investment, but the purpose is to provide opportunities that did not previously exist or were difficult for people to access.

Many people, primarily our young men, become involved in street violence because they cannot see a path for themselves outside of that life. Workforce development, community partnerships and mentorships, engagement and educational opportunities all have monumental impact on providing opportunities, improving community safety and reducing violence. As I often say, nothing stops a bullet like an opportunity.

As Congress begins to consider appropriations for FY2022, I am strongly urging my colleagues to increase funding to support the evidence-informed, community-based organizations that are on the frontlines of intervening to prevent gun violence.

We have a long way to go in rebuilding trust and safety in our communities plagued by gun violence, but if we begin to treat gun violence like the public health emergency it is, we can fundamentally change the future of these communities for the better.

Congresswoman Kelly is a Co-Chair of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Taskforce and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. 

Read the original at Crain's Chicago Business.

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Robin Kelly

 

 

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