County council considers how to treat gun violence as public health threat

SEATTLE -- Many worry that gun violence is an epidemic in our country and now local health officials are looking at ways to reduce the threat in our area.

A recent two-day summit between community members, elected leaders and health officials sought to explore ideas to help make an impact. On Thursday, the King County Council heard from summit participants.

Council says the idea is to hear from people on the front lines and to develop strategies to reduce the number of victims. Also, it’s not just talking about people who end up being shot – even those who witness shootings can be at risk of trauma-related health problems.

“This is a vitally important topic because we have a public health crisis on our hands,” said council member Joe McDermott.

The summit brought health and policy officials and community members together to look at gun violence through a public health lens.

The goal is to figure out ways to reduce deaths surrounding firearms.

“In King County, over 70 percent of firearm deaths are suicide,” said McDermott.

It’s not just suicides -- domestic violence and street shootings were also discussed as health threats during the summit.

“This is our first step to acknowledge what’s going on in our community,” said Ayanle Ismail, executive director of Bridging Cultural Gaps.

Ismail attended the summit and works with immigrant communities of color and their children – he says they are usually on the front lines of violence.

“These are American kids that are struggling, especially in the African American community dealing with the gun violence,” he said.

“At least 95 percent of the African American community will experience gun violence,” said therapist Ashley McGirt who says it’s not only those who are injured by firearms, but the trauma that ripples through families and communities is also having a serious impact throughout our region.

“Vicarious trauma is very real, and it has an impact on our body,” said McGirt. “Which is disproportionately killing black people.”

Council said while there are some laws on the books, like safe storage requirements and extreme risk protection orders, not everybody knows about them. McDermott said perhaps a campaign to inform the public could help make an impact.