Our friends at The Violence Policy Center (VPC) have just issued a very important report on the ways in which gun violence goes beyond creating dead and injured victims, but also disrupts and diminishes the quality of life in neighborhoods where too many shootings occur. And in case you didn’t know it, when I say ‘too many’ I mean more than none. This subject has a lengthy pedigree, going all the way back to the 1970s when Phil Cook began looking at this issue for the Ford Foundation, a subject he has revisited over the years, including an informative book on the issue published by Oxford University Press.
But what makes the VPC report both timely and important is the fact that it starts where most reports on the costs of gun violence leave off, namely, going beyond measuring the financial costs (medical intervention, lost wages, decreased property values) and looking instead at the individual and community-wide psychological costs which are more difficult to immediately discern but may have a greater impact on how people live their lives. The report blends data on gun violence with “advances in recent brain science research” to show how ‘early life adversity’ resulting from violence can precipitate a condition known as ‘toxic stress’ which leads to difficulties in brain development, which leads to all kinds of adverse social and mental behavior both on an individual basis and for the community as a whole.
Consequences of toxic stress in young people include:
- Reduced school performance leading to workforce difficulties and stagnant careers;
- Increased incidence of substance abuse, potential for suicide and heightened anxiety;
- Greater tendency to engage in violent and anti-social behavior.
And what could be more violent and anti-social than pulling out a gun? So what this research appears to indicate is that gun violence not only creates a large population of individuals who have suffered the physical effects of gunfire (if they survive the attack,) but an even much larger population that will suffer long-term problems that will impede the development of a normal life. How do we put a dollar figure on such outcomes the way that we put a dollar figure on how much medical responses to gun violence cost? We can’t, but if we could, the $229 billion that Mother Jones says are the direct and indirect costs of gun violence to the victims and institutions (hospitals, jails, etc.) which directly respond to the problem would be a drop in the bucket compared to the real costs.
Which brings me to the report’s suggestions for how to respond to this problem, in particular the idea (Page 15) which calls for “anti-trafficking measures that could help interrupt the flow of illegal firearms to impacted communities,” and “public education campaigns and outreach materials to educate communities at risk regarding the risks of firearms in the home.”
Which happens to be the ‘Don’t Lie for the Other Guy’ program funded by the NSSF. What? The gun industry’s lobbying arm which has been front and center in pushing programs which allegedly promote gun violence is actually paying for an educational program which talks directly to one of the pet issues of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, namely, preventing guns from getting into the ‘wrong hands?’
You may not believe what I just said, but it happens to be true. And the reason it’s true is that I have personally seen full-size roadside billboards like the one pictured above in two cities, and I don’t mean on the Interstates that run around the towns. They were right in the middle of neighborhoods which experience high levels of gun crime.
The NSSF has put up signage in more than twenty urban centers and, frankly, I find it astonishing that the GVP community hasn’t conducted a similar campaign. To the degree that the GVP fights for stronger laws against straw sales, a national program educating the residents of gun-violent neighborhoods about straw sales would be a no-brainer, right?
So tell me, GVP, what are you waiting for?
Thanks to Fritz Walker.