'Save as many as you can': NCDHHS, advocates, law enforcement work to address growing gun violence

Michael Perchick Image
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Groups work to address growing gun violence
NCDHHS has released a 10-page report highlighting escalating gun violence, labeling it as a "public health problem" and "equity issue."

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has released a 10-page report highlighting escalating gun violence, labeling it as a "public health problem" and "equity issue."

The findings offer statistics and suggestions to combat the growing trends.

"Sometimes people kind of run to their camps thinking there's one perfect solution. There isn't. We need to layer these multiple solutions, especially when we think about firearm violence. There is the unintentional firearm injury and death. There's suicides and homicides, and there's different populations that are affected. So really tailoring prevention strategies based on the type of firearm that's used and the populations takes nuance and layers of different strategies," said Dr. Betsy Tilson, State Health Director and Chief Medical Officer of NCDHHS.

The report states that more than 1,700 North Carolinians suffered a firearm-related death in 2020, more than half of which are suicides; veterans' suicide rates in the state were 250% higher than the general population from 2016-2020.

During that same period, child firearm injury hospitalizations increased by 120%.

"Firearm death is the No. 1 cause of injury death amongst our children. When we look at rates of suicide, veterans have incredibly high rates of suicide and especially suicides from firearms. When we look at racial disparities, our Black North Carolinians die at twice the rate as White North Carolinians for firearm violence," said Tilson.

Mom who lost child to gun crime works to save others

Alicia Campbell knows the devastating effects of gun violence. She lost a child to it six years ago.

"They need programs in the elementary schools to try and educate about these kids to not want to be part of these gangs and learn that (if) they can make a change, they can go to bigger and better things. But they need more opportunities to keep their minds on something positive instead of all the negativity that's going on around the world," said Campbell, who works as an advocate.

In 2016, Campbell's son Ahmad, a student at North Carolina A&T State University, was shot and killed at an off-campus party.

"He would want me to continue this and say 'mom, save as many as you can,'" Campbell said of her advocacy work.

She pointed to recent incidents of gun violence as motivating her to continue her work.

"Each time I feel like I want to give up, something else occurs, and I just know I can't give up. I have to keep advocating against gun violence," said Campbell, who stressed the need to provide funding for programs to decrease shootings.

Campbell called on parents to step up in combatting gun violence.

"Parents need to be more involved in knowing what their kids are doing. They need to be mindful and talk to them, have a conversation with them," Campbell suggested, and she added that she believed parents needed to be held more accountable about locking and storing guns.

'An emotional topic'

Earlier this month, NCDHHS hosted a roundtable to address the issue, inviting doctors, advocates, and law enforcement. Suggestions to emerge from the conversation and the agency's overall work included increasing access to mental health and substance abuse intervention programs, as well as expanding violence intervention programs in hospitals. Other measures called for enabling extreme risk protection orders and strengthening the implementation of protective orders for survivors of domestic violence, plus expanding Medicaid.

"This is such an emotional topic that gets political really quickly and people run to their corners," Tilson said. "And I don't think we can solution together if we're in our corners. So what we're really trying to highlight is there's areas of consensus, there's areas of agreement. We can make progress together, and that's what we're really hoping to really continue the conversation and push this forward."

The talk has resonated with Gov. Roy Cooper.

"The vast majority of people in North Carolina and the United States support reasonable steps to keep guns from people who shouldn't have them. Violent criminals, young children, people who are a danger to themselves and others. And there are solutions to help us do that. More comprehensive background checks, red flag laws and efforts to cajole and encourage more responsible gun ownership," Cooper said Thursday. "These policies are wildly popular with the people."

Cooper was delivering remarks to the bipartisan advocacy organization 97percent.

"Last week, I was talking with some emergency room physicians about gun violence and its effects on young people," Cooper said. "That discussion was passionate and jarring. One doctor said to me 'putting pressure on a gaping bullet wound in a 4 year old changes your life.' Another one said 'there's a wail a mother makes when you tell her her wounded child has died. It's a sound that's distinct and soul-crushing. I so wish I never have to hear it again.' I tell you, I'm rarely at a loss for words, but I was then."

To read the full NCDHHS report, click here.