Violence and ‘Civil War-Level’ Trauma in the Inner City


When Arthur Kellermann first studied risks associated with gun ownership, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided funding for his research.

What he found was widely considered groundbreaking.

“Homes where guns were kept were nearly three times more, not less, likely to be the scene of a homicide,” Kellerman said during a conference at John Jay College in New York City yesterday.

“And five times more, not less, likely to be the scene of a suicide.”

The study, which looked at homicides in one Washington State county between 1977 and 1983, helped frame a decade's worth of research into gun violence as a public health concern.

It was not popular with the National Rifle Association and firearms industry advocates.

The NRA lobbied Congress to limit the CDC's ability to research gun-related risks and in 1996, three years after a particularly high profile Kellermann study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a federal budget included a prohibition on CDC funds that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

In the 17 years since, federally funded studies of gun violence have been rare.

But even with a paucity of gun-related research, the inherent health effects of inner city violence are becoming clear. Speaking at the conference this morning, Connie Rice, Executive Director of the Advancement Project California, said children in urban areas are prone to experience trauma and post-traumatic stress “at Civil War levels.”

“Trauma is the biggest elephant in the room that nobody seems to see,” said Rice.

“When you focus on trauma, you begin to get a better sense of what these kids’ lives are like. It helps you get a sense of why they can’t look you in the eye, can’t focus.”

But politicians are often all too willing to be “tough on crime” without addressing trauma, said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade schools, during the conference.

While no students in Miami-Dade County were killed in school between 2009 and 2012, Carvalho said 99 students were murdered outside school walls during that time period.

81 were shot to death.

“We keep the schools open late, you know why? Because kids are afraid to go home,” Carvalho said.

It's a small measure — designed to help students during what Carvalho calls “the killing hours” between 4 and 8 p.m., when the streets are most dangerous for kids and teens — but he said its an acknowledgement of the burden of guns in their lives.

“If you restrict the number of guns in America, if you restrict the access, the number of children killed by adults goes down,” said Carvalho.

Graham Kates is Deputy Managing Editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers. He can be found on Twitter, @GrahamKates.

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