Taking a public health approach to restrain Wilmington’s gun violence

    (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

    After studying gun violence in Wilmington, Delaware, federal health researchers have offered the state recommendations for curbing the problem.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied the lives of Wilmington residents involved in crimes with firearms. Many of them had been abused as children and had a history of school suspensions and recent unemployment.

    Wilmington often ranks among the five U.S. cities with the highest homicide rate, according to the CDC.

    In 2013, 154 people were shot in Wilmington — a nearly 45 percent increase compared with the two years before, according to the CDC study.

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    “People don’t feel safe. It seems to be getting worse … people have become very frustrated. It’s had a grave impact, not to mention the impact on businesses willing to come into the city,” said Marlene Saunders, executive director of the Delaware Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

    Saunders is part of new group working to prevent gun violence in Wilmington. The advisory panel includes physicians, community activists, student leaders, educators, attorneys, pastors, and a social worker from Christiana Care’s Cease Violence program.

    It’s a public health approach. “That is, identifying kids who are at risk of using a gun before they actually do,” Saunders said.

    Other efforts increase law enforcement, or work with children and families after they’ve been touched by gun violence.

    Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children pediatrician Iman Sharif — who is part of the new advisory panel — said the root cause of gun violence is chronic stress, usually linked to poverty.

    “If we talk to our families and find out what’s going on in their lives and what stresses they are under, we can connect them to services long before they are into a situation where they are in a position to get engaged in violence,” Sharif said.

    “There’s a whole sort of intergenerational effect of hardship,” she said. “The only way you can support your family is engaging in some low-level crime, and all of a sudden you are in the middle of a violent situation that spirals down,” Sharif said.

    The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that physicians ask families about gun safety, she said.

    “Just like you ask about smoke detectors, just like you ask about seatbelts, you ask about guns in the home,” Sharif said.

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