State efforts to advance evidence-based, community-supported intervention and gun violence prevention strategies gain national attention

State efforts to advance evidence-based, community-supported intervention and gun violence prevention strategies gain national attention

By: Alexandra de Leon Date: March 9th, 2022

Washington’s Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention reports progress, recommendations, next steps in addressing gun violence in Washington communities

OLYMPIA, WA — Firearm violence is a persistent health and safety threat for communities and families in Washington state, where a person is killed with a gun every 12 hours. These deaths and injuries are preventable.

One year into its work to support and coordinate the implementation of evidence-based firearm violence intervention and prevention strategies across the state, Washington’s Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention (OFSVP) in the Department of Commerce is emerging as a national leader. The office is leading one of a few comparable statewide efforts nationwide, and is the only state office invited by the White House to participate in a National Community Violence Intervention Collaboration.

Launched in March 2021, OFSVP’s initial work coincided with an increase in firearm violence during the pandemic. A first-year summary, recommendations and next steps are detailed in the OFSVP’s recent report to the state Legislature.

“With the increase in gun violence in Washington state, as well as other states across the country, the work of the Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention is critically important. The office plays a key role in gathering data from multiple agencies in the state on firearm violence and sponsoring and evaluating innovative community programs to reduce the toll of gun violence,” said Fred Rivara, MD, Director, University of Washington Firearm Injury and Policy Research program.

A diverse advisory committee of voices representing law enforcement, survivors of gun violence, public health, researchers and community advocates, along with extensive stakeholder outreach, are informing and guiding OFSVP’s work. Early accomplishments detailed in the report include:

  • An Inventory of Firearm Data for Washington State, compiled in partnership with the University of Washington’s Firearm Injury and Policy Research program, identifying 31 data sources in the categories of health and healthcare and criminal justice and firearm-related licensing and sales data.
  • A partnership with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to establish peer network of state violence intervention offices.
  • A partnership with the state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) Office of Juvenile Justice to bring together representatives from existing state-funded violence prevention programs to share best practices.
  • A landscape analysis project, currently underway, to better understand existing firearm violence prevention and intervention efforts and needs across the state, to be used to identify and inform how to best direct resources to communities most impacted by firearm violence.

“Broad outreach and stakeholder input are essential to building the public-private partnerships that strengthen communities,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown.  “The Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention will continue to engage community organizations, civic leaders and impacted families from across the state to understand community needs and deliver the tools and support necessary to achieve durable reductions in firearm violence.”

As set out in the report, the mission of OFSVP touches on all types of firearm violence – suicide, domestic violence and community gun violence. Suicide continues to be the most common form of death from firearms, accounting for three out of every four gun deaths in Washington state. And, firearms account for almost half of intimate partner homicides. (Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “Washington Fact Sheet,” Jan. 2020). Community gun violence – defined as potentially lethal interpersonal violence on the street – requires different policies and strategies than other forms of gun violence and is the subject of the OFSVP grant program and much of the efforts of the office.

Community gun violence disproportionately affects low-income communities of color, with young men of color being particularly vulnerable. For example, black men ages 18-24 are 20 times more likely than white men of the same age to be murdered with a gun (Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence). Of the 337 shooting victims in King County in 2020, 88% were male, 43% were under 25, and 76% were people of color (King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office – Crime Strategies unit, “Shots Fired 2020 Year-end Report). According to the report, by interrupting cycles of violence, community violence intervention programs have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 60%.

State funding in recent years has supported firearms violence intervention programs in particular communities and for particular purposes. Gov. Jay Inslee’s budget for the upcoming state fiscal year includes $4 million to continue supporting community intervention and prevention efforts.

“Gun violence of any kind is tragic for families and communities. Community gun violence is a very particular problem with very particular, well-established solutions different than the tools used to prevent and respond to other forms of gun violence,” said Kate Kelly, OFSVP Executive Director. “Our response needs to be community supported, evidence-based and targeted to the highest-risk places and people and we appreciate the support of the Governor and lawmakers for investment in these programs.”

To be successful in the goal of reducing firearm violence in Washington, the report offers policymakers several recommendations, including:

  • Improving incentives and support for education and outreach on safe storage of firearms
  • Focusing on outreach and education on risk-based tools to protect intimate partners and families
  • Providing ongoing funding for the OFSVP grant program
  • Continuing to improve the availability and quality of firearm data through information collection and data sharing
  • Engaging with federal lawmakers and the White House to ensure support for data collection, research and funding for community violence intervention efforts, while leveraging new flexibility in federal programs and resources for firearm violence response.

Read the full Washington Office of Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention 2021 Report to the Washington Legislature.