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Colorado is creating its first official database to track gun violence

On March 24, 2021, people gathered in Boulder to remember the victims of the King Soopers mass shooting.
Rossana Longo Better
On March 24, 2021, people gathered in Boulder to remember the victims of the King Soopers mass shooting.

Colorado has been the scene of several notorious mass shootings. But suicides are by far the leading cause of gun deaths here.

In 2021, Colorado voters approved the creation of a new office within the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment to tackle gun violence.

They are partnering with the Colorado School of Public Health to create an information bank that tracks and studies gun violence across Colorado.

Alexis Kenyon spoke with Jonathan McMillan, Director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, about the new state efforts to address Colorado’s growing gun violence epidemic.

Alexis Kenyon:  There have been attempts to study gun violence as a public health issue at the federal level, but legislators have been unable to allocate CDC funding for the research, is studying this at the state level, a way of being able to create a body of research and how many other states are doing this?

Jonathan McMillan: Great question, and I think you, you really keyed in on one of the challenges of implementing widespread strategies in interventions into gun violence prevention immediately is that the lack of funding and the lack of research has existed up to this point because of the Dickey Amendment which limited the amount of federal funds that could be allocated, not only across the nation, but even at the state level.

So, to answer your question, I think more specifically with the resource bank this is going to be, in my eyes, a game changer because it will be a repository of data of best practices and the culmination of research, both locally and from the national perspective on what effective strategies exist around gun violence prevention and be housed in one space.

I kind of call it the Google of all things gun violence prevention here in Colorado.

Additionally the resource bank will be a clearinghouse for information and resources that exist outside of just data, hopefully a place where people can share what's working for them in their local communities and be able to work and build some collaborations to scale some of those efforts up.

And also a place where people can go to identify funding sources for continued research, for continued projects.

So that's the hope in that Colorado will be a leader nationally in building this model of sharing information easily, making it easily accessible, and being able to help amplify the work that's happening around gun violence prevention from this public health approach.

Alexis Kenyon: So Colorado had 13 mass shootings last year with 80 people killed.

Both of those are record setting, but that's not even the bulk of people who died because of gun violence.

Most of them are suicide, and then there's homicide at 25% of gun deaths after that, and it just feels like gun violence is just getting worse every day and it's overwhelming because we're talking about it all the time, and we're talking about mental health and then we're fighting about gun rights.

And meanwhile more and more people are dying of gun violence and there are more and more guns.

I mean, what is an evidence-based solution to gun violence other than not having guns, which doesn't seem like it's not really even an option because of such passionate ideologies on both sides?

Jonathan McMillan:

You know that's a great observation, and as a person who comes from a community that's traditionally been impacted heavily by by gun violence, this is something that's I'm very passionate about and why I was driven to pursue this work.

Again not to sound repetitive, but from a public health approach and looking at the data, and looking what are some of the effective strategies and one of the strategies that has shown to be the most effective really falls into what some would call responsible gun ownership practices in safe and secure storage.

One of the easiest and simplest ways that a gun owner can reduce the likelihood of gun violence happening is by securing their firearm safely with, say, a gun or a trigger lock or a gun safe, or also making sure that it's stored.

And oftentimes saying the example of suicide prevention, if a person is having suicidal ideations, the research demonstrates that the longer that it takes for a person to have access to a means to complete that suicide, the less likely that they're going to go through with it.

And if a firearm is in play, if that firearm is safely secured, it is much less likely that they're going to be able to use that weapon to complete the ideation.

That being said, safe and secure storage is an effective way to make sure that firearms are not accessible to criminals or those who should not get ahold of them in case a firearm is lost or stolen because it's safely secured, unloaded, and difficult to access if you're not the proper owner.

This story from KGNU was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Alexis Kenyon is a news reporter at KGNU radio in Boulder.