Commentary

We need to break the cycle of gun violence. That starts with us | Opinion

What kind of world are we leaving behind for our greatest achievement — our children?

By Cynthia Sherbin

One of the greatest joys in my life is the opportunity to be a grandmother. When I hug my granddaughter, I want to protect her and never let go.

Eventually, I do, but fear creeps into the back of my mind as our nation grapples with our epidemic of gun violence. Will I see my granddaughter again after she gets on the school bus or goes grocery shopping with her parents?

Every six hours someone dies from gun violence in Pennsylvania. That danger shakes me to my core. We live in a country where lawmakers value the right to own a gun more than protecting public safety. We see it play out every day, reading the awful stories of child after child senselessly killed.

What kind of world are we leaving behind for our greatest achievement, our children?

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We need to embrace the “Break the Cycle of Violence Act” put forth by U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev.  While over 175,000 Americans per year were murdered in the US from 2010 to 2019, additional hundreds of thousands more were hospitalized or treated in emergency departments after surviving life-changing gunshot injuries and other violent assaults.

Nationwide, 75 percent of all homicides are committed with a gun. 

Violence is a cycle.  Forty-five percent of patients treated for injuries such as gunshots were violently reinjured within 5 years. This violence disproportionately impacts young people of color including 72 percent of children murdered before their 18th birthday. In 2020, the nation suffered the largest single-year spike in homicides on record, driven by fatal shootings.

The solution is to build community-based violence intervention strategies. Evidence-based community violence intervention and prevention programs designed to interrupt cycles of violence and retaliation have proven to be highly effective at reducing rates of community violence, saving both lives and taxpayer dollars.

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From 2012 to 2013, a $2 million violence reduction program in two Massachusetts cities generated nearly $15 million in savings from decreases in crime. However, these programs require consistent and reliable federal funding to be successful. Currently, these effective programs have been implemented in only a handful of cities and lack a reliable stream of resources.

Break the Violence Cycle: Research shows that retaliation continues the cycle.

We need to develop community outreach programs, group violence intervention strategies, violence interruption, crisis management along with hospital-based violence intervention programs, breaking the cycle of violence by leveraging credible intervention and prevention specialists to provide intensive counseling, peer support, case management, mediation and social services to patients recovering from gunshot wounds and other violent injuries.

The ongoing economic burden from gun violence is stifling as gun deaths and injuries cost Pennsylvania $12 billion a year. But, Pennsylvania has made some progress to invest in safer communities. In June, Philadelphia invested $155 million in its budget to specifically address violence and job opportunities.

The Pennsylvania Legislature earmarked $30 million for anti-violence programs.

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, would allocate funding to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to disburse $30 million over three years to community groups and municipalities focused on implementing evidence-based programs to intervene and prevent violence to communities disproportionately impacted by violence.

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Given this moment in history, resulting from the current pandemic, the wakeup call of the death of George Floyd, the American discussion of Black Lives Matter and our long history of systemic racism, why not use this moment to properly fund our cities with the ongoing financial support to Break the Cycle of Violence and Bullock’s bill (HB696) resulting in saving lives and ultimately tax dollars.

It’s time to build a better future for all of us. After all, we are in this together. No one wins with this ongoing violence, the wasted human potential, and the current insidiousness of military-grade weapons on our city streets. No one wins but the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers.

Can’t we do better?

Cynthia Sherbin is a member of the Social Justice Committee of the advocacy group Chester County Marching Forward. She writes from Malvern, Pa. 

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