The school massacre in Connecticut was a tipping point that has moved communities across the country to explore ways big and small to reduce the threat of gun violence. In Hillsborough County, city and county leaders are looking to embark on a far-reaching public campaign to intervene earlier in the lives of at-risk children and families. This is a commendable effort that has real potential to make the county a safer and more promising place.
While Congress and the states debate whether to adopt new gun control measures in response to mass shootings across the nation, cities and counties are getting in on the act by framing gun violence as a public health issue. This is the same approach policymakers took in working to reduce smoking and used in campaigns from those promoting healthy eating and the use of seat belts to others aimed at curbing teen pregnancy and bullying.
County Commissioner Kevin Beckner launched the idea to bring a bring a sense of unity to the efforts by city, county and school officials to address gun violence on a broader scale. As the Tampa Bay Times' Richard Danielson recently reported, the county's task force of local government and school leaders, law enforcement officials and mental health experts will look at teaming with the Prevention Institute, a leading nonprofit affiliated with Harvard's School of Public Health that has worked on similar projects in more than a dozen cities. The focus will be on pairing up at-risk children with mentors and job training, and addressing a range of social problems, from school dropout rates to gang-related crime, that contribute to a rise in violence.
Supporters cite Minneapolis as an example of the good that can come from the institute's approach of addressing crime as a public health issue. By taking such a comprehensive view, and intervening earlier with at-risk families, Minneapolis was able to cut juvenile-related crime and arrests, and incidents involving youth and guns. The move also raised community awareness about the real-life impacts that gun control loopholes have on public safety.
This civic campaign is not a substitute for outlawing assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, requiring nearly all gun sales to be subject to background checks and other reasonable reforms. But it brings those who face the reality of guns and violence on a daily basis to the table to pool their efforts in a collaborative way. And it adds to the public understanding of the complex dynamic this nation faces in balancing gun rights with public health and safety. It is a small step Hillsborough can build on and present as a model for the region.