Five days after unspeakable violence was visited on children and educators in Newtown, Connecticut, we as a nation are beginning to move from shock and horror to thinking about the policy changes we must make to reduce the corrosive presence of violence in American life.
Prevention Institute applauds President Obama's leadership in comforting the grieving, in resolving that these deaths shall not be in vain, and in declaring that action is needed to control gun violence and to change a culture "that too often glorifies guns and violence." Clearly, we must enact legislation that bans assault weapons and outlaws large-capacity magazines used in automatic weapon. We must reverse mental health cuts that make it quicker and easier to buy a gun than to get an appointment with a counselor.
But that is not enough.
We need a sustained commitment in the U.S. to pursue the kinds of policies that can transform our communities and prevent the violence that is an everyday feature of life in too many cities and communities. As a nation we were shocked by the Newtown shooting because it was a brutal attack on the most vulnerable among us, because it was so senseless, because so many were killed. But we must also remember that, on average, gun violence kills 85 people every day in America and that violence is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 24. In 2011, more than 700,000 young people were treated in emergency departments for injuries sustained in physical assaults, almost 2,000 every day.
Even these sad statistics don't capture the reality and impact of violence in America. According to a survey of children conducted in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Justice, almost half of children were assaulted at least once in the previous year. One in four witnessed a violent attack and one in ten experienced or witnessed five or more violent incidents in the previous year. Children and youth are more likely to be victims of violence than adults. Such experiences have an impact.
The Cycle of Violence
As the DOJ report notes: "Children who are exposed to violence undergo lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm. They suffer from difficulties with attachment, regressive behavior, anxiety and depression, and aggression... Being exposed to violence may impair a child's capacity for partnering and parenting later in life, continuing the cycle of violence into the next generation." One third of urban youth suffer from stress disorders related to their exposure to violence.
At a time when mass killings are all too common, everyday acts of violence, even murder, barely register on our consciousness. If they get noticed at all, they're covered in a two-sentence round-up buried in the back of a newspaper. In our important quest to prevent high-profile massacres like Newtown, we must also address the daily reality of violence in our cities and neighborhoods. It can be done, and cities like Minneapolis and Los Angeles are proving it. In those cities, leaders have brought their communities together to craft clear plans and mayors have made implementation a top priority. Los Angeles has achieved a 35 percent drop in gang-related homicides in neighborhoods served by the city's gang-reduction programs and an innovative effort to keep city parks open at night.
We support and applaud President Obama's sense of urgency in creating a task force on gun violence and charging it to develop concrete proposals in the next month. That's a great start and we hope it will lead to new gun-control laws. But what we also will need is a sustained commitment to address urban violence. This means helping cities develop comprehensive violence-prevention strategies created in collaboration with a broad group of agencies, organizations and advocates. It means helping those cities obtain the resources and expertise they need to sustain their work. And it means recognizing that while guns amplify the effects of violence to make it far more lethal, preventing violence in all forms must be our ongoing goal and commitment.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to address this issue by offering our ideas to Vice President Biden's task force and Congressional leaders and by working with other advocates and organizations across the country. Please join us by sending us your thoughts, forwarding our message to your friends and colleagues, and allying with our efforts in any way you can.
Please join us by leaving a comment with your thoughts, sending this piece to your friends and colleagues, and allying with our efforts in any way you can. For more information on the proliferation of guns and how to prevent violence in our communities, read the policy suggestions we laid out earlier this week.