Editorial: Understand gun violence to prevent it

July 15, 2018

The State Journal’s deep dive into the lives of people involved in gun violence in Madison should reignite our community’s conversation around preventing and addressing deadly shootings.

People who use firearms to commit crimes must be held accountable so they don’t cause more harm. Often, that means jail or prison.

But understanding the root causes of senseless violence — and how it might be stopped or slowed — must be a higher priority.

The good news is that innovative ways of handling delicate and emotional situations show promise.

State Journal reporter Dean Mosiman’s insightful, five-part newspaper series, “Gun Violence in Madison | Cycles of Trauma,” which concludes today, should prompt community leaders and the public to commit more attention and resources to the challenge.

Madison is still among the safest cities in America. We are prosperous and growing. We offer a generous network of social service agencies and nonprofits with strong public schools. The vast majority of our citizens of all backgrounds follow the law and try hard to succeed.

Yet a scary increase in gun crimes, with children and young adults most at risk of committing and succumbing to the violence, cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Madison and Dane County are seeking a more coordinated approach to break the cycle of violence, which makes sense. So does enlisting more peers — including ex-offenders who have turned their lives around — to help diffuse conflict and steer people back into civil society.

Four months of reporting by Mosiman, with photography by John Hart, Amber Arnold and Steve Apps, captured the impact years of trauma from poverty, hunger, neglect, a missing or incarcerated parent, evictions, racism, substance abuse and mental illness can inflict.

Concern runs across the political spectrum. At his State of the State speech last year, Republican Gov. Scott Walker gave first lady Tonette Walker the stage to tout a statewide initiative incorporating science and trauma-informed care into the work of state agencies.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, a Democrat running for governor, and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi are calling for a broad-based approach and have pledged greater funding.

Spending more money isn’t always the answer. Yet it’s hard to argue against new and relatively inexpensive approaches that seem to be working, such as the Focused Interruption Coalition. Former offenders with deep ties in the community intervene in times of trauma to comfort victims of violent crime and calm the impulse to retaliate. The effort, with peer-support specialists on call 24 hours a day, costs just $200,000 a year.

Lots of people have lived heartbreaking lives without turning to violence using firearms. What’s different today is the proliferation of guns. A small but rising number of teens and young adults carry guns like cellphones, according to Mosiman’s reporting. The weapons are easy to get, convey status and sometimes are used to settle disputes.

Madison can’t let gun violence become the norm. Our leaders must stay engaged. Public safety requires police and prisons but also creative strategies that prevent violence from shattering lives.

Update hourly