The Parkland massacre has reignited the now all-too-familiar partisan gun debate in Florida and the country as a whole. Folks on the left demand stronger gun control measures, and folks on the right insist that guns are not the problem. Lost in the partisan acrimony, however, is the fact that proven solutions for dramatically reducing gun violence exist right under our noses. These particular solutions do not involve gun laws and they do not involve arming teachers. What they do require, however, is focusing on where the vast majority of the gun violence exists.
In 2016, there were just under 15,000 gun homicides in the U.S. (more than the annual death toll of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War), but mass shootings only accounted for 456 of these (about 3 percent). U.S. gun violence is concentrated on an ongoing basis in urban areas where, taken collectively, there are mass shootings every day. Many of these communities are in a constant state of emergency: homicides are the first and second leading cause of death for African-American and Latino males, ages 15–34, and the amount of trauma experienced by the victims, family members, and those living in the community can only be compared to what soldiers deal with in war zones.
The only silver lining to this reality is that proven strategies are readily available. A highly effective gun violence reduction strategy was developed in Boston in the 1990s and resulted in a 63 percent decrease in homicides (an accomplishment that was dubbed “The Boston Miracle”). Since that time, variations of the strategy have been successfully implemented in cities across the country. In Oakland, CA, for example, gun violence was cut by 29 percent after the strategy’s first year of implementation in 2012 and, as of 2017, the city has its second-lowest homicide rate in 47 years.
The basic principle underlying these models is the fact that, even in the most dangerous neighborhoods, it is only a fraction of one percent of the population that is responsible for the vast majority of the shootings. Thus, instead of “stop and frisk” approaches which alienate whole communities, effective efforts use a highly targeted, data-based approach in which the small number of individuals most at risk for shooting (and being shot) are provided with individualized programs of support and pressure to lay down their guns. Law enforcement officials, clergy, community leaders, social service providers and street outreach workers then work in partnership with one another to help these individuals turn their lives around.
Recently, Orlando and Orange County leaders announced their intention to start such a program, and Dade County, the City of Miami, and Miami Gardens have all been discussing similar approaches. The cost of implementing these strategies depends in part on the city or county’s size and the number of individuals who are potential shooters, but some practitioners have estimated that it costs about $20,000 a year per individual in order to change their course (this goes into things like mentoring, case management, job preparation, education, mental health, and other supports to help them transform their lifestyles and become self-sufficient members of the community).
This type of investment is far cheaper than the alternative. In fact, the Rand Corporation estimates that a single murder costs the community over $8 million in court, police, hospital, incarceration as well as indirect costs associated with pain and suffering. One study has even calculated that a reduction of a single homicide results in a 1.5 percent increase in housing values in that zip code the following year. Even the most skeptical and fiscally conservative among us can then agree that a one million investment per year in the most violent cities in the state would more than pay for itself, even with just minimal homicide decreases.
So, what would it look like for the State of Florida to make a real investment toward ending gun violence? Instead of allocating the $67 million being proposed to arm school staff or the $140 million for school resource officers, why not allocate $20 million to directly address 1,000 potential shooters in our state? What if we took a second to withdraw from the partisan stalemate and invested in proven solutions that we could implement tomorrow? The State of Florida and the nation as a whole is watching closely to see what our governor and legislators will do. The time for action is now.
Dr. Antonio Cediel serves as the Urban Strategies Campaign Manager at the PICO National Network https://www.piconetwork.org/ where he helps to promote strategies to reduce gun violence and mass incarceration in cities and counties across the country. Before coming to PICO, Dr. Cediel spent over 20 years in public education, serving as a teacher, principal, and deputy superintendent in urban schools, and currently provides leadership coaching and professional development for educational leaders and corporate executives throughout the country.
Rev. Rhonda Thomas is a pastor at New Generation Missionary Baptist Church in Opa Locka and is a congregational organizer for Faith in Florida. She is presently advocating to restore voting rights for persons with prior felony convictions, and leading community rallies to end gun violence. Rev. Thomas is passionate about social and economic justice, and was part of the campaign in fighting for better wages for University of Miami Food Service Workers.