‘Time to double down’

Advisor to a gun violence prevention initiative in Kalamazoo says the severity of the crisis looms large, despite a recent drop in homicides.

The old way of doing things – ad hoc prevention programs and increasing police budgets – wasn’t working.

So, when Reggie Moore agreed to lead Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention with a focus on lowering gun violence, he said he would only do so with buy-in from people and community organizations that did not operate out of City Hall.

The result was the Blueprint for Peace, a strategy and policy document to which thousands of people and organizations gave input for ways to reduce gun violence by addressing the myriad causes and acknowledging the limits of status quo responses to it.

For the past year, Moore has been advising a similarly structured initiative being guided by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Initiatives & Public Policy office, which is moving from the research to the strategy setting phase. A steering committee has been holding meetings, which representatives of NowKalamazoo have attended. The end result is expected to be a new approach to stemming gun violence in the Kalamazoo area, which will in turn guide how millions of dollars of city, county, and other funding is spent.

“Think holistically about violence,” Moore said at a presentation on Thursday at the Foundation, to a crowd that included the new city public safety chief, judges, elected officials, and people who previously participated in gun violence and now work to disarm young shooters.

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Gun violence is increasingly being viewed as a public health crisis because it’s a leading cause of death and injury in this country, which in turn negatively impacts the mental health of survivors and loved ones. It also results in increased financial costs and fewer members contributing to society.

Since May 2021, Moore has been the Director of Violence Prevention Policy and Engagement at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Injury Center. Before returning to his hometown of Milwaukee, he worked in Washington D.C. to address tobacco usage and other youth-focused policy and advocacy work around the country for more than two decades, Moore is a practitioner and proponent of the “public health approach.” That essentially looks to solve the problem with the same level of resources, research, and policies as eradicating a disease.

While the gun violence rate isn’t as bad as it was in the early 1990s, Moore said it should be treated as a top priority crisis to solve because of the impact on youth. Since 2020, guns have become the leading cause of death for children and teens, according to research from the University of Michigan.

“It’s a reality of their consciousness,” Moore said, of children forced to think about safety and risk from guns, the active shooter exercises replacing the tornado safety drills of the past. Moore – as well as Kalamazoo area prevention workers – said that perpetrators of gun violence have skewed younger over the past two years as well, and the conditions that have led to it have been overlooked and underinvested.

There’s still “a lot of pain and rage walking around the community,” Moore said, whether that’s unaddressed personal grievances or the collection of generations of trauma and systematic oppression. When that happens, “street justice prevails,” he said.

“Oftentimes there is a reason” for the violence. It’s “a human issue.” To solve it, a community needs to get below the surface level.

“If we can’t win the moral argument, then maybe we can win the financial argument” in the effort to guide gun violence prevention efforts, Moore said. He pointed to a “Cost Per Shooting” slide in his presentation that showed that between things like hospital, investigation, incarceration, and victim support costs, an average gun homicide cost the city of Indianapolis $1.2 million and an average gun injury cost $698,000.

“The return on investment on prevention shouldn’t be an argument,” Moore said, since the status quo isn’t working and is more expensive than what’s being referred to as the “public health approach” to reducing gun violence.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions describes it as “multifaceted and comprehensive and brings together institutions and experts across disciplines in a common effort to develop a variety of evidence-based interventions. This comprehensive approach to tackling public health crises in America has been used over the last century to eradicate diseases like polio, reduce smoking deaths, and make cars safer.”

In Milwaukee, the Blueprint for Peace made the case that using data and research to determine which policies and efforts should be prioritized and funded would be less expensive overall. It would also directly and indirectly create more opportunity for young people – and increase the quality of life of those living in neighborhoods that suffer from decades of both disinvestment and gun violence.

In 2020 and 2021, the city and county of Kalamazoo experienced record rates of gun-related homicides. It spurred respective commissions to allocate $1 million each to addressing what it called a public health crisis.

While 2022 saw a decrease in gun deaths, Moore warned against treating it as a victory.

“It’s actually time to double down,” he said. He urged the community to change its approach and put the funding behind it commensurate with the problem and the solution. “It needs to be seen as critical as trash pickup.”

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