The number of shootings has increased in Seattle. After leading the way on successful early interventions like Nurse Family Partnership for low-income moms and high-qualitypreschool, City Council President Tim Burgess recently unveiled a well-crafted “GUN SAFETY INITIATIVE“. It received national attention by CNN — and immediate opposition, of course, from the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.). The program has its roots in 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooing tragedy, when Tim Burgess enabled Seattle to become the first city in the U.S. to fund basic research on gun safety. Seattle’s leadership was imperative because the N.R.A. lobbyists blocked research at the federal level.
Seattle’s pioneering research, led by UW doctors at Harborview Medical Center, showed that individuals hospitalized from gun injuries were 30 times more likely to be re-hospitalized for another gun injury and 11 times more likely to die from guns within 5 years. In addition to the tragic life outcomes for the people involved, everyone pays for it. More than $17 million was spent in 2014 on the medical costs for 250 victims of gun violence at Harborview…with taxpayers picking up the bill for 70%. The Public Health division of Seattle & King County estimates the total direct and indirect cost of firearm deaths and injuries was $900 million (2009 through 2013).
When Tim Burgess announced his gun safety initiative recently, the media focused on the conflict with gun rights advocates and dealers. But the most interesting angles are the sources of funding and how the city will invest it.
Source of Funds: Tired of property tax levies? With the impending Nov vote on City Hall’s most expensive transportation levy shortly after doubling the Parks Levy, many in Seattle want to see more discipline, creativity, and results from their city leaders. The good news is that the gun safety initiative is funded by taxing each gun sold in the city by $25 and each bullet by 2 cents to 5 cents. As Dr. Fred Rivara of Harborview said, “A tax on guns and ammunition makes sense, since the public pays the majority of the costs for gun violence in the form of medical costs for gunshot victims and, of course the police and criminal justice costs of protecting citizens from gun violence.”
Use of Funds: As a result of the city-funded research, Harborview developed an evidence-based bedside intervention for gun violence victims to reduce future trauma and hospitalizations. This was based on successful program where public health professionals turned around the lives of those hospitalized due to alcohol-related injuries. Evidence-based initiatives like that will be funded with the revenues from the new tax on guns and ammunition.
- Is there statistical data that demonstrates how big the problem really is? (“needs assessment”)
- How does the program propose to make things better? (what is the “theory of change“?)
- Will it work? (is it a “best practice” or “evidence-based“)
- Is it targeted to those who need it?
- Does the source of revenue make sense? (i.e. it’s not another lazy levy)
- Are there process evaluations and outcome evaluations set up at the beginning to track and report results and provide feedback?
When he chaired the Budget Committee, Tim Burgess set up similar performance standards for two city budgets, but policymakers cynically side-stepped them by claiming programs were not “new” or that it was “too hard” to measure the results.
Because the new Gun Safety Initiative met those high standards, even naysayers (some operating as tools for other political candidates) struggled to critique it and were reduced to re-tweeting negativity.
- Complaint: “It’s too late once the bullets fly.” Response: (1) That’s why Tim Burgess first started by expanding early intervention solutions proven to reduce inequities such as Nurse Family Partnership in 2011 and high-quality preschool in 2013. (2) The gun safety funds will be used to PREVENT a more tragic return to the hospital.
- Complaint: “Expand other programs.” But do those programs actually work? When you really care about outcomes, it usually does not help to throw scarce dollars at unproven programs. For example, an independent report commissioned by City Auditor’s Office found that, after 5 years and over $20 million, the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) was so poorly designed, it is nearly impossible to determine results/outcomes.
But let us light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Bravo for a sensible program from City Hall. City Council approved Tim Burgess’s gun safety initiative August 11, 2015 and the Mayor signed the ordinance. Now onto implementation and actually helping people.
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