State Sen. Marilyn Moore (opinion): Ending gun violence by investing in our youth

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“Fourteen-year-old shot in Bridgeport”; :14-year-old playing with gun kills 14-year-old in home”; “14-year-old shoots man.” These headlines need to end. Gun violence happening across the state needs to end.

At a recent press conference in Connecticut, a suggestion was made to increase the juvenile courts that deal with youth who are involved with gun violence. This particular group is a small group of youths who are taking lives and placing communities and innocent people in the line of fire. Is the answer the courts? Or are we reverting to the days when Black and brown youth were caught up in the war against drugs? We saw that didn’t work and after many years the state closed facilities that disproportionately incarcerated our Black and brown youth for minor offenses. Finding out what works should be the first step in creating a solution, not just immediately looking to a judicial system for answers.

What we need to do is invest in our youth at an early age with evidence-based programs that are available during the weekday and weekend with extended hours. We need to educate students in our classrooms when children become aggressive and unable to manage their trauma. And we need to look at answering the question, is there a concerted effort to review, evaluate and support programs? Is there a dedicated funding source intentionally created to oversee funding, tracking, coordination and evaluation for gun violence prevention?

All large cities have some type of gun intervention and prevention program that serve youth and receive state funding. There are hospital programs addressing trauma, community messengers who intervene, educators who teach and offer support, and others who give parents and families support after an incident.

From Hartford to Bridgeport, males and females who have lived experience are in the streets, hospitals and homes of victims working to intervene and perhaps stop the next assault. So yes, the programs are there, but the funding, evaluation and coordination are not. The problem is the failure of funders — private along with the state and federal government — to collaborate and evaluate under one authority.

This past legislative session, the Legislature voted in favor of the creation of the Youth Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention Advisory Committee that was developed in Senate Bill 1, Public Act 21-35.

The legislation charges the advisory to consult with community outreach organizations, victim service providers, victims of community violence and gun violence, community violence and gun violence researchers and public safety and law enforcement representatives regarding strategies to reduce community violence and gun violence. The advisory committee will also work to identify effective, evidence-based community violence and gun violence reduction strategies.

Public hearings will help the advisory hear the voices of our community as they write a report with recommendations that will be submitted to the Health and Human Services Committee for review. The report will lead to drafting legislation to create the Commission on Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention. The commission will coordinate state funding for programs within its purview, seek funding opportunities beyond the state and identify gaps in programs and services.

As the Senate chair of the Human Service Committee, one of the committees that will review the recommendations, I look forward to supporting the commission and strongly urge that the leadership adequately fund programs that work. The answer is not opening up more courts, the answer is to stop investing in programs that are not effective. The only way to know what works is by evaluation and coordination.

State Sen. Marilyn Moore represents the 22nd District, which includes Bridgeport, Trumbull and Monroe.