Bishop's Deputy for Gun Violence Prevention annual report 2017
DIOCESAN GUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION INITIATIVE
Although violent crimes, including homicides, have significantly decreased nationally in the past two decades, a number of cities are experiencing a marked escalation of gun-related violence. In St. Louis, Missouri, for example, the number of homicides (overwhelmingly from guns) increased from 120 in 2013 to 188 in 2015 (+63.8%). Our homicide rate per 100,000 population is more than eight times the national average (37.7 compared to 4.5). And, the majority were the result of young-black-male-on-young-black-male shootings.
Recently, the academic, activist and faith communities have begun to examine the gun violence that pervades our urban centers as a public health crisis and have noted that, to the extent it is, there are strategies that can be deployed immediately to combat it. Locally, for example, the Diocese of Missouri and Washington University Medical School’s (WUMS) Department of Psychiatry are implementing a program to enhance the engagement of faith communities in the care of survivors of gun violence. Central to this initiative is the development and support of an ecumenical coalition of clergy and laity to work with local law enforcement, health care and community organizations. A 5-module training curriculum has been developed and piloted with select agencies and, beginning in 2018, will be offered in partnership with the Walker Leadership Institute at Eden Seminary.
The Diocese and WUMS also have joined with Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice (WVRSJ) in recruiting parishes and individual members throughout the Diocese to participate in its “Lock It for Love” program. The evidence is clear that accidental shootings could be virtually eliminated with the use of gun locks, and suicides markedly reduced. “Lock It for Love” raises funds for the purchase of gun locks ($5.25/lock) and distributes them free-of-charge throughout the community. In mid-2017, WVRSJ located its administrative office to the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in University City.
With the support of funding from the Episcopal Presbyterian Health Trust, the Diocese facilitated an agreement among the 36+ local agencies engaged in gun violence to collaborate on the development of a shared model of governance that will foster greater accountability to each other, as well as the larger community. The coalition recently received “Commission” status from St. Louis City and County and will complete the formation of its Leadership Council before the end of the year.
Finally, the Diocese entered into a partnership with the American Hospital Association in support of its national #HAVhope initiative to educate the public on the causes of violence and effective responses to them. Key to our initial work together has been the linkage of our respective web sites.
In the coming year, attention will focus on expanding parish outreach, increasing the number of training seminars, designing an adult forum curriculum on violence prevention and developing metrics to evaluate the success of the initiative’s efforts.
The Reverend Dr. Marc D. Smith