“Children in Atlantic City see more gun violence than they need to see. A lot of our kids are walking around with PTSD from the violence that they are exposed to in our city.”
— Atlantic City Police Chief Henry White
Gun violence should be considered a public health issue, not just a public safety concern.
If our government and lawmakers treated shootings as a disease, there would be more progress toward reducing the number of people who have access to guns and use them to commit violence.
There’s already evidence of this. In Wilmington, Delaware, nearly 90 percent of shootings were committed by someone without a job, a Centers for Disease Control study found.
The CDC had been asked by city officials to study the shootings there, in the hopes it would reveal patterns. After two years, the CDC found within the shootings clear connections to joblessness, childhood neglect and other mental-health issues.
The information was shared with numerous agencies, not just law enforcement, and led to a number of changes.
The city beefed up many of its social programs, hiring more social workers, extending community center hours and proving more mental health treatment.
From 2017 to 2018, the number of shootings in the city was more than halved, to 71, and the number of those killed by guns dropped from 32 to 19.
Wilmington officials said the results were emphatic.
“We still need the support of our police department, yes,” Wilmington Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz said. “But we know that we could not police our way out of it. ... We knew that we needed to address the root cause of what is causing this epidemic of violence.”
In Atlantic City, the death rate from guns was four times higher than the state average, according to annual crime reports, and everyone from the city’s police chief to emergency room doctors say the violence is a symptom of a disease and needs to be treated as such.
White also touched on another, less obvious aspect. In a Press of Atlantic City story in March titled “Gun violence is one of Atlantic City’s biggest health threats,” White said the impact on the city’s youth is alarming.
As we speak, Congress is in the process of unshackling the CDC from the restrictions of a 1996 bill that prohibited the agency from doing more robust, sweeping studies on gun violence.
The amendment has tamped down CDC research on gun violence for the past 20 years, but it appears now there’s an opportunity for it to resume.
We look forward to that happening as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City, as it charts its course toward a rebirth, should take advantage of the resources the state and its health care partners have to begin addressing the same issues locally.
That means utilizing the research and resources of the state Department of Health, AtlantiCare and other agencies to help create programs and treatment of what has become a national disease.