Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill last week authorizing a series of pilot programs that will grant money to high-crime areas of Massachusetts. Representative Mirra was among 40 legislators who signed Representative Andy Vargas’s letter to the Governor this past summer requesting $20 million for a program specifically aimed at gun violence prevention. Crime and violence continue to pose a threat to our communities, and we are grateful to the Governor for his support in combating these issues.
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You can find Representative Vargas’s letter to Governor Baker copied below.
Dear Speaker DeLeo and Chairman Sánchez,
In the wake of school shootings across our country, Massachusetts is once again poised to lead on keeping our kids safe. As we soon consider a supplemental budget to invest in mental health counselors and capital investments for our schools, it is important that we continue our commitment to research and investing these dollars thoughtfully to get the greatest return on investment in regards to public health, public safety, and economic development.
We are writing in regards to the Governor’s supplemental budget proposal to invest $72 million to address school gun violence. Investments in mental health counselors, marketing campaigns, and security technology in our schools are worthy and vital; however, we believe that if we truly wish to address the gun violence epidemic, we have to acknowledge that schools cannot solve this problem alone and that, statistically, most kids that pull the trigger are not found in schools. As such, we would like to see the supplemental budget reflect these facts by allocating resources to address gun violence and increase mental health services within community-based organizations
Protecting the Parkland Generation, a recent 2018 study conducted by the Giffords Law Center (founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords) makes clear that “while school shootings are more likely to make national news and bewilder our collective consciousness, sadly, they represent just a fraction of the gun violence experienced by American youth.” The report concludes:
“To reduce gun violence in America, we must pair gun safety reforms with meaningful investments in community based violence intervention programs, which have been shown to quickly and dramatically reduce shootings by strategically focusing resources on the small group of individuals most at risk. For black families in America, the chance of a male child dying from a gunshot wound is 62% higher than dying in a motor vehicle crash. Strategic intervention programs in urban communities plagued by gun violence have been able to cut gun homicide rates by as much as 50% in as little last two years.”
Giffords has also highlighted Massachusetts’ leadership with the public health focused Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, which specifically targets proven-risk youth ages 17-24. SSYI has proven to reduce homicides and aggravated assault rates across Massachusetts.
Far more young people have been affected by gun violence outside of their schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2013 to 2016 there were 12 firearm homicides among people under age 18 in Massachusetts, and 143 firearm homicides among people ages 0-24. These homicides are disproportionately concentrated among people in underserved communities of color and in demographics who are no longer a part of the K-12 school system. In fact, in Massachusetts, nearly 80% of homicide victims under age 25 are either Black or Hispanic. There is also a unique need to increase the access of mental health services for those young people who are not currently enrolled in school, i.e. a focus on also expanding services within community-based organizations.
Earlier this year USA Today ranked Massachusetts as the safest state in the country in regards to gun violence, a ranking that is undoubtedly a result of the Massachusetts Legislature’s dedication to enact forward-thinking gun control policies and to make smart investments in prevention and intervention programming to reduce the underlying circumstances that put our communities at heightened risk of gun violence, to prevent gun violence before it occurs, and to intervene when violence is imminent. With this supplemental budget, we can continue to lead by directing resources toward the populations, communities, and school districts with high rates of gun violence by investing intentionally into schools and community-based programs that are reaching higher-risk youth.
The CDC defines an epidemic as “the occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time.” In Massachusetts, like much of the rest of the country, gun violence is a significant public health and public safety issue that disproportionately impacts communities of color. In fact, according to the most recent death data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, compared to white men, rates of gun-related deaths are twice as high for Hispanic men, and are nearly 3.5 times as high for black men. Just as our state has approached the opioid epidemic and domestic violence from a public health perspective, gun violence is an epidemic that warrants a public health approach.
The Department of Public Health’s primary and secondary prevention and intervention strategies to reduce youth violence in specific communities with high rates of gun violence have been underfunded in recent years. It is our proposal that the Legislature allocate $20 million to create the Gun Violence Prevention Trust Fund to support a four-year grant exclusively to community-based organizations addressing youth violence via a public health approach, including the expansion of mental health services. This would be consistent with targeted investments driven by research.
It is our hope that $20M of the half billion proposed to stabilization or a portion of the $72M proposed to school security and safety can address gun violence as the public health crisis that it is, while employing research proven methods through our community based organizations.
Thank you for your consideration,
Representative Andy X. Vargas
3rd Essex District
Cc: Governor Charlie Baker, Secretary Marylou Sudders