This week the Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention Advisory Committee, created by the General Assembly for the purpose of guiding it on the establishment of a commission to reduce community gun violence in Connecticut, heard testimony from the public and interested organizations. CT Against Gun Violence submitted the following testimony, calling for the creation of a state-level, executive branch Office of Community Gun Violence Prevention.

While Connecticut has the sixth lowest rate of gun deaths in the nation, it still has an unacceptably high level of gun homicide. Gun homicide and injury disproportionately victimize Black and brown communities in our largest cities. Senate Bill 1, passed earlier this year, declared that racism is a public health crisis. So, too, is community gun violence. 

To achieve racial equity, preventing community gun violence must be part of the discussion. Equality cannot be achieved if everyone isn’t safe in the communities where they live, regardless of where that is. Sadly, this is not the case in Connecticut.

That is why CT Against Gun Violence launched the Connecticut Initiative to Prevent Community Gun Violence. Its objective is to establish an Office of Community Gun Violence Prevention, a state-level grant-making authority tasked with funding and implementing evidence-informed, community-centric, programs and strategies to reduce street-level gun violence. Currently, 42 Connecticut-based and national organizations are partners to the CT Initiative.

The CT Initiative envisions dedicated staff resources with multi-disciplinary expertise who would bring the attention needed to address the magnitude of Connecticut’s community violence problem. Among its primary responsibilities, the office would secure state, federal and other monies to provide stable and predictable funding to support violence prevention and intervention programs. It would establish grant criteria, award grants, guide implementation, offer technical expertise and monitor programs to ensure objectives are met.

The need, and opportunity, to create an Office of Community Gun Violence Prevention is now.

There were 105 gun homicides in Connecticut during 2020, up 53% versus 2019. Gun homicides this year have continued at this elevated level. Deaths are concentrated in the largest cities. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven consistently account for up to two-thirds of statewide gun homicide totals.

Beyond the loss of life, gun violence has a tremendous economic impact. It’s estimated that the cost to Connecticut taxpayers of gun violence is $90 million per year. The tangible costs, including lost income, is estimated at $430 million annually, and the societal cost brings the total to $1.2 billion each year.

With the potential for significant federal funding from efforts led by the Biden administration, it is important that the state has the capacity to secure its fair share of federal grants. Maximizing Connecticut’s share of federal funding should not be an ad hoc endeavor; it requires dedicated staff to identify opportunities and secure grants.

In his request for FY2022 discretionary funding, President Biden asked Congress for $200 million for local implementation of community violence intervention (CVI) programs. His administration also directed five agencies to prioritize CVI grants across 26 different federal funding streams. The Build Back Better Act targets an unprecedented $5 billion over eight years to CVI programs, a level that policy advocates believe will be maintained in the scaled back package currently pending in Congress.

Given the urgency, CAGV suggests that the Advisory Committee explore additional avenues to achieve the goals of the proposed Commission on Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention that could have shorter implementation timeframes. 

One such possibility is to provide the Department of Public Health Office of Injury Prevention the resources it needs to fulfill the mandate it was given when established by statute in 1993. Its duties include developing sources of funding to establish and maintain programs to prevent interpersonal violence, including homicide. The defined scope of “injury prevention” clearly includes gun violence even though the term “gun” is not in the statutory language.

The case for action is strong. Around the nation, various program models have proven track records of reducing interpersonal gun violence, including hospital-based violence intervention, violence interrupters and group violence intervention. The challenge in Connecticut, however, has been securing adequate and stable funding for these programs, and ensuring that a comprehensive portfolio of solutions is deployed, including prevention, intervention and after-care. To date, the state has focused most of its efforts on Project Longevity, the law enforcement-led group violence intervention strategy that works to steer individuals at highest risk of gun violence away from further acts of violent crime.

Law enforcement has a critical role in gun violence prevention and intervention. But in addition to the Project Longevity focused-deterrence strategy, and enforcement of our state’s strong gun laws, Connecticut needs to invest in a comprehensive portfolio of solutions that goes beyond policing.

As written in the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, S.2275, introduced in Congress this summer, “When properly implemented and consistently funded, coordinated, community-based strategies that utilize trauma-responsive care and interrupt cycles of violence can produce lifesaving and cost-saving results in a short period of time without contributing to mass incarceration.”

Through a combination of legislative and executive action, states across the country are investing in the executive branch infrastructure to fund, implement, support and oversee community-based violence prevention programs such as those proposed by the CT Initiative. These include California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Cities around the country have also established Offices of Gun Violence Prevention, although mostly where populations are substantially larger than even Connecticut’s largest cities. 

There are life-saving solutions to be found in violence intervention and prevention programs operating at the local level. Connecticut needs to invest in the organizational infrastructure to find, fund and follow these programs, as our organization and our partners have proposed in the CT Initiative to Prevent Community Gun Violence.

Jonathan Perloe is Director of Communications of CT Against Gun Violence.