The Gun Violence Prevention Task Force issued its preliminary recommendations for preventing gun violence Thursday, in which it called on the Anne Arundel County executive to declare gun violence a public health crisis.
In the report delivered to Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman on Thursday night at Anne Arundel Medical Center, the task force laid out more than 30 recommendations ranging from offering more mental health resources to students, additional gun control legislation and deploying a broad communications strategy to raise awareness and increase education.
Much like Gov. Larry Hogan did in 2017 in response to a growing opioid crisis, Pittman said he would work with the County Council to draft a resolution declaring gun violence a public health crisis “as soon as possible."
“For them to do it, I think it’s more powerful in their role,” Pittman said because the council sits as the board of the county health department.
County Council Chairwoman Allison Pickard, D-Millersville, said the declaration would have support among other council members.
“In order to activate the county health department I think that resolution is called for,” Pickard said. “For my district, we’ve seen an uptick in gun violence, the ripple effect and how that affects our communities is long-lasting. ”
By framing the issue of gun violence through a public health lens rather than framed as a fight between advocacy groups and gun rights activists, it helps eliminate the political tension that comes when discussing the issue, said Nilesh Kalyanaraman, Anne Arundel County health officer.
A key piece of addressing gun violence is using data while also addressing risk and protective factors and finally intervention, culminating in a multifaceted approach to the problem, he said.
“The public health approach really focuses on how do we keep people safe,” Kalyanaraman said. “I think that pulls us away from the guns versus no-guns question, which is contentious and is wrapped up in Second Amendment issues. This is much more about how do we keep people safe and that is a health issue.”
The other advantage of this strategy is offering solutions that improve people’s lives and their health, he said.
The report calls for legislation at the county and state level, including 100% criminal background checks for all firearms sales, require lost or stolen guns in the county be reported within 48 hours and finally to limit children’s access to firearms by requiring unattended firearms to have child safety locks.
The report also suggests the development of a plan among health care providers to screen for gun safety by asking patients about suicidal ideation or possible domestic violence.
Other suggestions include partnering gun sellers with suicide prevention, domestic violence prevention and gun safety organizations to provide resources at the point of sale. It also called for increasing both gun violence education while providing mental health resources to school-age children.
Specifically, the report calls for more crisis intervention teams to be added to Anne Arundel County’s Crisis Response system and to develop educational materials about topics like extreme risk protection orders — known as red flag laws — and safe gun storage among other prevention strategies.
Social media and messaging was another emphasis, with calls for a public health messaging campaign for both gun owners and non-gun owners and law enforcement to educate the public about red flag laws. The task force recommended a video or series about gun violence prevention be developed and aired in schools, on social media and public television.
In addition to outreach, data-sharing across agencies will increase transparency and a website to hold all of the resources and information will also be deployed, Kalyanaraman said.
The full preliminary report may be accessed on the county’s website. A final more detailed report will be due May 1, 2020.
There was no opportunity for public comment Thursday but the task force is recommending a public hearing be held in the spring to receive additional feedback.
Pittman created the group following the June 28, 2018, shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom that killed John McNamara, Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.
He asked the group of more than 30 members made up of citizens, including Andrea Chamblee and Maria Hiaasen, who lost their husbands in the Capital Gazette shooting, as well as community activists, educators and local government leaders, to research gun violence and actionable ways to prevent it. The report is a culmination of eight months of work stemming from an April 5, 2019, executive order that created the task force.
The report also recommended the task force be cut to about a dozen or so members.
The move would allow the group to work more efficiently moving forward, co-chairman Bishop Charles Carroll said, adding that he is considering staying on the task force in the future.
At the group’s first meeting where the public was allowed to comment in August, some gun rights advocates said their voices weren’t being considered in the conversation. As a result, the task force added more opportunities for public comment.
Pittman stood by the decision Thursday night to not include gun rights experts because the task force was not meant to examine or interpret the Second Amendment.
“We don’t have the power to do that at the county level,” Pittman said.
A group of hunters, collectors and gun owners released a separate report this week that described the task force as “flawed from the start” because it lacked representation from gun owners and pro-Second Amendment groups. Their report urged the task force to “avoid making recommendations that are rooted in an emotional response to the complex issues surrounding gun violence and Second Amendment rights in our society and our community.”
The group voiced its support for suicide prevention and education laid out in the report but opposed additional gun control laws. One of the authors, Arnold resident Daryl Hodge, attended the meeting Thursday.
He appreciated the public health approach, said Hodge, adding that he was pleased Kalyanaraman mentioned that two-thirds of gun violence stems from suicide.
“So often people say, 'Oh, we have to stop gun violence,” and that means we have to go after hunters and lawful gun-owners," he said.
A workgroup will begin working in January to consider which recommendations can be implemented in the short-term and which ones may need more funding.