LatinaLista -- According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, California ranks as the top state in the nation with the "strongest gun laws that help combat the illegal gun market, prevent the sale of guns without background checks and reduce risks to children."
Yet, a new report on youth gun violence released this week by California's Office of Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) underscores how a state that is doing everything right still can't do enough to keep guns from falling into the hands of volatile youth.
The report, A High Price to Pay: The Economic and Social Costs of Youth Gun Violence in San Mateo County found that in San Mateo County, the home county to the cities of Daly City, East Palo Alto, Redwood City, and San Mateo, which comprise 38 percent of the total San Mateo County population, "disproportionately account for 57 percent of non-fatal firearm injuries and 74 percent of fatal firearm injuries."
According to the report:
African American males aged 15 to 24 years are up to 18 times more likely than the overall county population and 3.5 times more likely than other San Mateo County youth to be shot and killed. The rate of non-fatal injuries among Latinos aged 15 to 24 years is 14 percent higher than that of other San Mateo County youth.
The report, which emphasizes that gun violence costs San Mateo County taxpayers an estimated $50 million each year, also identifies a couple of factors that have lead to youth gun violence in their community: the youth live predominantly in neighborhoods where there is an environment of "fear, distrust and diminished opportunities'; and most of the gun violence is driven by gang activity.
Yet, what is the most disturbing finding of the report is that the young people surveyed said it was "very easy" to get guns.
Sixty-three percent of youth surveyed felt it was "very easy" or "somewhat easy" to get access to firearms, and the majority of participants in a youth focus group felt that they could get a gun "with one phone call."
Youth most commonly obtained guns by stealing, by illegally purchasing them from an individual on the black market, or "from their homes." Respondents reported that firearms could be purchased for "as little as $80 to $300---depending on the size of the gun."
An intergenerational pattern of gang involvement or criminal activity may lead to youth having access to guns from family members, and being able to borrow or informally barter for guns.
Respondents pointed out that getting a gun is "as easy as access to drugs." This climate of ready gun availability led a service provider to observe that "it seems harder for adults to get legal access to guns than for kids to get illegal access."
This surprising information regarding the ease of youth access to guns is supported by data from the 2007 California Healthy Kids Survey, in which 4.8 percent of San Mateo County 7th, 9th, and 11th graders reported having brought a gun to school, a rate similar to that for the Bay Area overall (5 percent).
Kudos to San Mateo County for even asking the hard questions that reveal a dark underbelly in their community, and which doesn't exactly enhance the region as a tourist destination.
San Mateo's findings alone should make all communities not only start asking the same questions but working on solutions to help save a generation before it's lost to preventable violence.
For starters, there needs to be education about gun violence in local communities. Among rural immigrants who have settled in the United States, there has been known to exist a gun culture that doesn't think twice about pulling the trigger in celebration of a new year or particular milestone.
In communities where gang recruitment is rampant, stronger outreach is needed to reach both parents and children, offering physical and emotional support and alternatives from answering the call of a gang.
Communities that feel fear from gang activity or feel there are no opportunities for those residents need to be "built up" again and be given a new sense of pride in their community.
Yet, none of these factors will do any good unless there are strong gun laws on the books that keep guns out of the reach of the very people who don't know how to use them and are too angry to care.
(Editor's note: Latina Lista has accepted participation in the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the US media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.)