While Connecticut has the fifth lowest rate of gun deaths in the nation, we still have an unacceptably high level of gun homicide. Although the number of deaths has come down substantially since the 1990s there were 72 gun homicides in 2019, on average more than one a week. The deaths are concentrated in our largest cities: gun homicides in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven accounted for two-thirds of 2019 statewide gun homicides.
Black men are disproportionately the victims, killed by guns at 25 times the rate that non-Hispanic white men are. Measured by the firearm homicide rate of black men, Connecticut doesn’t stack up as well as it does on its overall gun death rate: we are 16th lowest in the U.S.
Although Connecticut’s strong gun laws—like permit to purchase and lost and stolen reporting—help reduce the flow of illegal weapons that are largely responsible for gun homicide, weak gun laws elsewhere aggravate the problem. Nearly half of firearms recovered from crime scenes in Connecticut come from out of state, most of them from states with lax gun laws.
The conclusion is obvious: we need more than just strong gun laws to prevent the community gun violence that disproportionately injures and kills people of color, and that causes enormous collateral damage. Approximately 56% of the state’s gun homicide victims are black; five times the proportion of blacks living in Connecticut. While accounting for about 14% of Connecticut’s population, Latinx account for approximately 23% of gun homicide victims.
That’s why CT Against Gun Violence (disclaimer, I work for CAGV) and others are calling on the state to create a permanent commission focused on reducing community gun violence. Such a commission, modeled on commissions up and running in other states, would be tasked with implementing evidence-based, community-centric, programs and strategies to reduce gun violence.
There are community-based violence prevention and intervention programs that are working, including here in Connecticut. In Connecticut, the clearest example comes from Project Longevity, the group violence intervention (GVI) strategy that has been implemented with great success in cities across the nation. A 2015 Yale study concluded that Project Longevity was associated with an average reduction in New Haven of five group-member involved shootings and homicides each month. Despite its success, the program has struggled to get adequate funding; during the 2017 budget stalemate its employees worked for months without pay, an indication of the dedication of the people on the ground in the communities where gun violence is most prevalent.
The challenge is identifying the evidence-based programs that work, making sure they receive adequate funding and monitoring their results to ensure accountability. Permanent commissions, rather than short-term task forces, are best suited to deliver this type of policy planning, implementation and oversight work.
The commission would include community leaders, representatives from law enforcement, executive branch agencies, urban policy experts, public health experts, and gun violence prevention advocates; representing all the constituencies that have a stake in reducing community gun violence.
Putting more resources into gun violence prevention is not only a moral imperative, it’s fiscally smart. Beyond the loss of life, gun violence has a tremendous economic cost. It’s estimated that the direct cost to Connecticut taxpayers of all forms of gun violence is $90 million every year. The tangible costs, including lost income, are estimated at $430 million, and the total societal cost brings the total to $1.2 billion annually.
States around the country have adopted similar standing commissions to address community violence, with documented success.
In Massachusetts, the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) is a standing program to fund efforts that focus on reducing violence among high-risk youth. Funding has ranged from $4.5 million to $11.4 million since it began in 2012. Cities where SSYI funded programs operate have seen a reduction of more than five violent crime victims per 100,000 residents, representing nearly 1,000 victimizations prevented over a three-year period.
In 2019 the California Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) Grant Program was established by the legislature to appropriate $30 million to cities and community-based organizations with the purpose of reducing homicide, shootings and aggravated assault through evidence-based initiatives.
In 2018 the Maryland legislature established the Maryland Violence Intervention and Prevention Program (VIPP) with $4 million of seed money. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention administers the program to provide competitive grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to fund evidence-based health programs.
Connecticut needs to do more to reduce the gun violence that victimizes primarily black and brown communities. There are life-saving solutions to be found in evidence-based violence intervention and prevention programs operating at the local level. The state should invest in the organizational infrastructure to find, fund and follow those programs. A permanent commission to reduce community gun violence should be a priority for legislators and the governor’s office.
Jonathan Perloe is director of communications for CT Against Gun Violence.