By Brendan T. Campbell, David S. Shapiro and Chief James C. Rovella
Firearm violence is more than a city problem where it glares brightly under the television lights. It is a regional problem no different than drunken driving, burglaries, and outbreaks of communicable diseases. Yes, it is both a public safety and public health problem because guns also get into the city from many different places. People come into the city from many different suburbs to work. We have formed the Capital Region Gun Buyback Coalition to broaden the message that gun violence is everyone’s concern, and we can all do something about it
A small cooperative effort driven by the Hartford Police and Hartford’s three trauma centers for the last four years is now expanding. The Stop & Shop Corporation, the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, Connecticut Transit, Lamar and Hope Street Ministries are among the new partners understanding the need for a regional solution to what is often perceived as only a city problem. And this is more than just a reaction to the shootings at Sandy Hook, which has brought renewed interest in understanding and preventing gun injuries and deaths. Gun violence has been a problem in American cities for decades and is now getting the benefit of increased attention to its devastating effects across cultural, economic and social boundaries.
Opponents will say that gun buy-back programs have not been proven to lower the incidence of firearm violence, but we believe that buybacks can work in cooperation with other law enforcement efforts that make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms. Buybacks take in unwanted firearms, they promote publicity around them to raise awareness about violence and they bring together community members to work together to address a complicated problem. With summer starting and the potential for random acts of violence to increase, a buyback gives that extra push to remove guns that all too often turn hot summer streets deadly.
To show how this can augment existing programs, let’s look at some established accomplishments. The Hartford Shooting Task Force was created to address increased gun violence in the city. Its one-year report last August showed: a 42 percent reduction in murders with a handgun or shotgun, a 30 percent reduction in gun assaults, 51 fewer gunshot victims than last year at the same time, 76 firearms seized and a homicide clearance rate of 67 percent. (The annual average is 20 percent and has been flat for 40 years.) Moreover, the guns collected at recent buybacks in Hartford have been nearly identical to the guns confiscated from criminals by the Hartford Shooting Task Force. Removing these unwanted guns from the community prevents them from being obtained by criminals.
Irresponsible individuals and accessible firearms are a dangerous combination and can result in a shooting, a suicide, and in those worst of cases, a mass shooting. Gun violence, when compared to disease, can be easily prevented with effective, common-sense measures. Suicide accounts for about half of all firearm deaths in our state. Firearms are the method used by more than half of older teen suicide victims, and suicide attempts with a gun are more likely than other means to be successful. Lethal means restriction is a tool physicians employ with patients contemplating suicide. Public health research has clearly established that unsafe storage of guns and ammunition is associated with an increased risk of suicide and unintentional gun injuries.
Gun violence is a community problem. Hartford is our community; it includes teachers, elected officials, parents, police officers, churches, parole officers, businesses, state and local officials, and everyone in between who calls Connecticut’s capital home. But this community needs to invest in the idea that meaningful change can happen through community engagement and responsible gun ownership. The Capital Region Gun Buyback Coalition is a strong forward step in that direction. On Saturday it will hold the first of three buybacks for planned for 2013.
Last December, two weeks before Sandy Hook, the smaller collaborative collected 181 unwanted working firearms, a 53-percent increase over the year before. This included 148 working handguns from Hartford and the surrounding suburbs. In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings and the renewed interest in gun violence prevention, additional buyback programs have been held in New Haven, Bridgeport and New London. New Haven even collected 21 assault rifles.
In the Capital Region, we embrace the idea that a gun buy-back program should be a part of the multifaceted public health and law enforcement approach to preventing firearm violence. Simply put: Removing unwanted guns from the community can only make Connecticut a safer place. A gun removed cannot be used.
Brendan T. Campbell, MD, MPH is a pediatric surgeon and the Medical Director of the Trauma Program at Connecticut Children’s; David S. Shapiro is a trauma surgeon and Associate Director of Surgical Critical Care at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center; and James C. Rovella is Hartford’s Police Chief. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Connecticut residents can drop off unwanted firearms at the Community Renewal Team’s office, 555 Windsor St., Hartford, in exchange for gift cards of $25 to $75.