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By Gerry Hills, Chairperson of the Desert Southwest Conference Gun Violence Awareness Task Force

Arizona has a serious gun violence problem. In fact, in Arizona, more people die from gunshots than car accidents. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services from 2005-2014, Arizona ranks 18th in gun related deaths, with 14.6 gun related deaths per 100,000 people. This is 40% higher than the national average.

In addition to the human toll in lives and injuries, gun violence imposes a stiff financial cost on our state. Based on health care costs, law enforcement expenses, criminal justice expenses, costs to employers, and lost income, the initial price tag of gun violence in Arizona is $1.9 billion dollars per year; with $334 million of that picked up directly by Arizona taxpayers. While this number is staggering, it does not include lost business opportunities, lowered property values, lost tourism dollars, and reduced tax base.

On Thursday, March 16, 2017, Bishop Robert Hoshibata participated in a press conference to launch the Arizona Coalition for Common Sense alongside former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly. The Collation brings together a broad cross-section of business, law enforcement, veterans, faith, medical and civic leaders, who support common sense solutions that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and protect families from gun violence.

Following the press conference, as a member of the advisory board of the newly formed Coalition, I participated in a roundtable with the state leaders. It is my hope to be able to align the efforts of the Task Force with this new Collation help reduce gun deaths and injuries across Arizona. As a gun violence survivor and activist for over 20 years, I am encouraged that people from so many sectors are working together for a safer Arizona.

The Gun Violence Awareness Task Force is part of the Conference’s Board of Church and Society. Its mission is to help educate and activate congregations on the issue of gun violence and how it impacts various communities. The group currently, offers gun safety classes to churches to help promote safe storage and reduce unintentional shootings. The group will develop a plan over the next few months to expand its resources to include civil dialogue programs to help churches hold discussions on the intersectionality of gun violence and how it impacts other social justice issues such as economic injustice, domestic abuse, immigration, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ communities and more.

For instance, more than 60% of all domestic violence-related deaths in Arizona involve a gun. That is 45% higher than the national average. (www.everytownresearch.org) A recent Urban Institute study found reducing shootings improves local economies; just one less gun homicide was associated with the creation of 80 new jobs. (www.urban.org)

As a church, as a state, we cannot afford to ignore the gun violence problem.

If you are interested in joining the Task Force, scheduling gun safety training, or hosting a community conversation, please contact the Director of Outreach Ministries, Billie Fidlin, at bfidlin@dscumc.org.

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