More than two dozen community leaders, advocates, academics and medical health experts recently convened a public hearing to discuss the issue of gun violence and how it affects youth’s mental health, during a meeting facilitated by California Assemblymember (AD 15) Buffy Wicks.
“The purpose of the hearing was to explore the rise in mental health issues in youth across the county, and the role gun violence play in this troubling epidemic,” said Wicks, chair of the Assembly’s Select Committee on Youth Mental Health. “If a child grows up in a community plagued by gun violence, the likelihood they’ll suffer from mental health issues skyrockets.
“The research on this is both troubling and extensive with more than 34 million U.S. children suffering from this kind of toxic stress nationwide,” added Wicks. “We’ve identified gun violence as an underlying cause. Now is the time to start identifying solutions that will provide more resources and counseling to confront these issues.”
Wicks has a personal interest in eradicating gun violence. Her husband, Peter Ambler, was the legislative director for former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when she was shot in the head on Jan. 8, 2011. The gunman shot 24 people, killing six and wounding 18 during a constituent meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Ariz., in the Tucson metropolitan area.
During Giffords’ recovery, Ambler helped manage Giffords’ office while she was in the hospital. He later co-founded and became Executive Director of Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control advocacy organization.
Each speaker at the hearing talked about gun violence and how it affects victims and families, noting that whenever there’s a shooting, it is not only tragic, but the aftermath also impacts the community as a whole. Panel members echoed each other’s remarks discussing how Black and Brown communities across the nation, who are mostly affected and experience these issues on a regular basis, don’t get the attention they deserve.
“Looking at the equity rate of gun violence in our communities, it reveals that this problem is 10 times higher in minority neighborhoods than in white communities,” said Wicks. “This is unacceptable. There is no reason why children in urban communities should have to deal with these issues.
“We cannot let this be the case going forward. I will remain on the forefront of this issue and will push for more funding for programs to help alleviate the existing problems of gun violence and its effect on youth’s mental health.”
Currently, there are 3 million children and teens who witness shootings across the country,” said Wicks. “Fortunately, those numbers have slightly subsided, which is attributed to prevention and intervention programs. In Oakland alone, there has been a 66 percent reduction of gun violence in the past year. However, we still need to continue to provide more mental health services for those adversely affected by gun violence.”
Wicks noted that the Assembly Select Committee on Youth Mental Health will continue to work closely with community-based programs that know the community well, as those programs are demonstrating successes.
Speakers on the panel included local and national representatives from Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, Brady United Against Gun Violence and March for Our Lives.
Medical experts included representatives from the UC Firearm Violence Research Center, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, The Permanente Medical Group and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.
Local advocates included representatives from the Children’s Defense Fund, CA, RYSE Youth Center, California Children’s Trust, Youth ALIVE!, Public Health Advocates, Californians for Safety and Justice.
Assemblymember Wicks represents California’s 15th District which includes all or portions of the cities of Oakland, Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Pinole, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington and Piedmont. To learn more about Assemblymember Wicks and her work, visit a15.asmde.org.