The Risk Of Increased Homicide Rates Due To Gun Violence In America
Gun violence is a public health tragedy that affects millions of lives in the United States every year (Christensen, Cunningham, Delamater, & Hamilton, 2019). It is a problem because its complex nature and frequency of occurrence have a considerable impact on the health and safety of the US population. Simply, gun violence refers to the violence that involves the use of firearms ( e.g. pistols, shotguns, rifles, etc.) (Amnesty International, n.d.). In 2017, approximately 134,000 people were shot and injured by firearms in the US and almost 40,000 of them lost their lives (Christensen et al., 2019). In the same year, approximately 3500 firearm deaths occurred in Texas (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). This number is in increasing trend in Texas since 2014 when there were 2800 firearm deaths (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). The situation is even more terrifying for Tarrant County because if we look at the death records from 2017, Tarrant County had the highest number of deaths due to firearms as compared to its neighboring counties ( Denton, Johnson, and Parker). Data showed that amongst 117 firearms homicides in these four counties, Tarrant County accounted for over 90 percent of those deaths. Additionally, Tarrant county also experienced the highest number of firearm suicide in 2017 (152 out of 244) as compared to Denton, Johnson, and Parker counties (Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office, 2017). Gun violence is a problem in Tarrant County, and we need to address this problem.
Though gun violence can affect anyone, the urban population is most affected in the US. An analysis from 2015 showed that more than half of America’s gun homicides took place in 127 cities, which in total made less than a quarter of the US population. These cities were also reported to have high poverty rates, low education, and racial segregation (Aufrichtig, Beckett, Diehm, & Lartey, n.d.). Low education level resulting in jobs that paid minimal wages and no health benefits is a risk factor for gun violence. Moreover, gun violence disproportionately affects minority populations like African Americans. On average, an African American is eight times more likely to die because of gun homicide than a white American (Aufrichtig et al., n.d.). Almost 19 percent of our total population in Fort Worth are African Americans. If we take the aforementioned data as a reference, then almost one-fourth of our population is at a higher risk of gun violence (United States Census Bureau, n.d. ). In addition to it, the majority of victims are African American males aged 15-29 years (Aufrichtig et al., n.d.). Furthermore, gun violence is positively correlated with poverty. People living under the federal poverty level are more likely to experience gun violence than those above the poverty level. That being said, approximately 18 percent of our population is at higher risk of experiencing gun violence in Fort Worth (United States Census Bureau, n.d. ).
Gun violence takes a toll on the lives of not only victims but also the caregivers, families, and communities (Amnesty International, n.d.). Gun violence can affect individuals in multiple ways- be it on education, health, family stability, or financial security (Francis, 2018). A gun violence victim can be physically and mentally affected by the trauma for a longer period. Victims may lose their ability to work especially if their work is physically challenging. They may require life-long care and rehabilitation services. This could be life-changing for victims as well as their caregivers and families (Amnesty International, n.d.). Moreover, people who have witnessed gun violence or are living in the violence-prone neighborhood are at higher risk of developing mental disorders in the form of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, risky sexual behavior, substance abuse, and violent behavior (Francis, 2018). Additionally, gun violence and related injuries add a burden to our national economy. Each year gun violence costs $100 billion to US citizens (Francis, 2018). Hence, gun violence has multidimensional effects on individuals and communities.
Several interventions have been implemented in Fort Worth to address the problem of gun violence. One such intervention is the Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN). PSN is a federally funded program targeted to the high crime rate areas like the Las Vegas Trail in Fort Worth (United States Department of Justice, n.d. ). From 2013 through 2015, PSN was successful in lowering the violent crime in Stop-Six and Seminary neighborhood. After being funded in 2016 again, this project is being implemented in Fort Worth in partnership with One Safe Place. In addition to addressing gang violence, this project also addresses the issues of domestic violence as it could be a risk factor for gun and gang violence in the community (United States Department of Justice, n.d. ).
Crime Stoppers is an initiative under the Safe City Commission in Tarrant county. It is an effort to reduce crime by providing monetary incentives to individuals who call the hotline to give information regarding crime (Tarrant County, n.d.). All these calls are kept anonymous. Usually, each caller who gives any information about crime receives some tips. However, those individuals who provide information leading to arrest for a crime could receive as much as $1,000. In addition to it, individuals who could provide information leading to arrest related to gun crime/violence get an additional bonus amount of up to $250 (Tarrant County, n.d.). This initiative is based on the theory that people other than offenders do have information regarding crime even though they are reluctant to confront it. Monetary reward is a way to overcome the barrier of confrontation (Tarrant County, n.d.).
In August 2019, some of the leaders brought up the necessity of implementing evidence-based interventions like the Advance Peace Program and the Stand Up San Antonio program (Zheng, 2019). Advance Peace program is an initiative to reduce gun violence in Richmond, California. Because of this initiative, Richmond was able to reduce 66 percent of firearm assaults between 2010 and 2017 (Advance Peace, n.d. ). Similarly, Stand Up San Antonio is an approach to prevent violence by interrupting transmission, changing behaviors, and community norms (City of San Antonio, n.d.). Not necessarily, an intervention that works well in one city can work in another as well. Though the results may seem promising in other cities, we need to do our homework in this regard. Undoubtedly, we need more research on what works best for the city of Fort Worth.
We do have some interventions for gun violence in place in Fort Worth. But the question is are we doing enough to address this problem? Are we going on the right track? Where are we lacking? One of the most violence-prone areas in Fort Worth is Las Vegas Trial (The Medlin Law Firm, n.d. ). Some of the community-level risk factors for gun violence are high poverty, drug addiction, low education, high unemployment, poor housing conditions, gang activities, poor community participation, etc. (Chen, Voisin, Jacobson, & Society, 2016; McMahon et al., 2013). Areas like Las Vegas Trial experience more crimes and gun violence because they have more of these risk factors (Barr, 2017). Hence our interventions should be more targeted towards reducing such risk factors. If we could work on strengthening the protective factors for violence like community upliftment, increased social cohesion, creating more employment opportunities, etc. then only we can effectively address the problem of gun violence (Hardaway, McLoyd, & Wood, 2012). Identification of a major problem and underlying issues surrounding the problem is critical. Hence interventions targeting only one of these issues might not be effective. We should plan, create, and implement more comprehensive approaches to address these multiple domains like education, economic stability, employment, etc. This requires a joint effort of different stakeholders like the city council, health department, community partners, and community members. One of the major challenges in working around gun violence issues in Texas, in general, is gun-related laws. On top of being the state with less restrictive gun laws, more liberal laws around gun ownership and storage have been passed as of September 2019 (Dunn, 2019). Hence, in addition to the aforementioned stakeholders, we also need more law enforcement entities on board to address the challenges of gun violence.
The effective partnership enables all stakeholders to utilize their unique features to come up with solutions that fit a community, measure the outcomes, identify the gaps, and address the problems as a team (Hann, 2005). The city leaders could help in securing the funding from the federal and state level. They could help to bring together experts in a table and institutionalizing the gun violence prevention efforts. This could also mean holding stakeholders accountable. Similarly, the health department could also be a major funding source for implementing programs in the community (McLively & Nieto, 2019). Furthermore, community partners are most likely the trusted entities of community members. They can understand the community and its members better and identify what works best for that community. We could tie up this concept of a collaborative approach with the research gap mentioned earlier. To implement evidence-based interventions like Advance Peace Project in Fort Worth, we need to integrate the strengths of all three entities (city council, health department, and community partner).
We cannot achieve any public health goal in a community by working in silos. The role of the city council and health department could be crucial to bridge the gap and bring our community partners in a single place. If we all could realize the potential of our power, role, and responsibilities then we can collectively work towards minimizing the problem of gun violence in the city of Fort Worth.
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