Gun violence is a public health problem. The solution involves a public health approach.
In many states, including Washington State, gun violence costs hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect costs, and takes more lives in many years than motor vehicle crashes. Two of the most significant public health challenges in the last century in America - tobacco use and drunk driving - have been significantly reduced through application of public health research and intervention techniques. Yet a public health approach is not widely applied to gun violence in our country. It's time for that to change.
Supporting Seattle’s First-in-the-Nation Gun Violence Research
In 2013, Seattle became the first city in the nation to directly fund research into the public health impacts of gun violence in the community.
The study, conducted by the University of Washington’s Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, found a remarkable linkage between gun violence and other health risk factors, as well as an extraordinary risk of gunshot victims being victimized again:
- Individuals hospitalized with an injury and previously arrested for firearms or violence were 13 times more likely to be arrested again within the next 5 years.
- Individuals hospitalized for a firearm injury were 30 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for another firearm injury than people admitted to the hospital for non-injury reasons.
- Individuals hospitalized with a firearm injury were 11 times more likely to die from gun violence within the next 5 years than people admitted for non-injury reasons.
Interventions with this relatively small number of individuals have the potential to reduce their high risk of recidivism, and reduce firearm violence in the city. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility is now helping to expand this research into a new study into the best means for intervening with these high-risk communities to reduce their risk of becoming victims of gun violence.
The Harborview Trauma Center, Seattle Police Department, Seattle-King County Public Health, and University of Washington School of Social Work Gun Violence Intervention Research Project are all collaborating to test new methods of intervention during hospital stays, dedicated case management following discharge, and organizing agency support for those previously impacted by gun violence.
Defending Seattle’s Gun Tax
The Harborview intervention project is also partly funded by one of two ordinances passed by the City of Seattle in 2015, which created a modest tax on firearms and ammunition sold in Seattle. The ability to fund programs for the general welfare is a vital component of a city’s ability to respond to public policy challenges like gun violence, which cost Seattle approximately $12 million in direct medical costs in 2014.
In August 2015, the National Rifle Association and other organizations sued Seattle in an attempt to overturn the City’s ordinance. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility stood with the City to help defend the tax and the work that the Harborview team was preparing to begin.
Amid a wave of public support for a public health approach to gun violence, a King County Superior Court judge upheld Seattle’s gun tax in December 2015. Harborview’s intervention program is now underway, and is expected to be completed sometime in 2018.
“Washington’s law prohibits the regulation of firearms by local governments, but Seattle is within its authority to impose fees to pay for a public-health crisis caused by gun violence.” Seattle Times Editorial Board
Suicide is the leading cause of firearm death in Washington State. In 2014 alone, 545 individuals – 49% of all those who took their own lives – used a firearm. If we are to reduce the level of gun violence in Washington State, we tackle the challenge of suicide prevention head-on. We know that 90% of people who attempt suicide and survive never go on to attempt suicide again. Sadly, firearms are by far the most likely method to result in completed suicide attempts – to the tune of 51%. That’s why intervention in moments of extreme crisis is critical to suicide prevention.
Washington State is demonstrating how approaching firearm suicide as a public health challenge can revolutionize the approach to this complex challenge. These actions represent new steps on the long path to addressing suicide in Washington State.