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‘We are furious’: Connecticut gun violence prevention advocates urge federal action

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Ryan Lindsay
/
Connecticut Public Radio
In 2019, medical professionals gathered at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford to mark Gun Violence Awareness Day.

This year’s National Gun Violence Awareness Day took place as families and communities around the country reckon with a fresh series of fatal mass shootings.

While Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, they extend only to the state’s borders. Prevention advocates, health care providers and gun violence survivors marked Friday’s awareness day by calling for a stronger federal response to reducing gun violence nationwide.

“As a mother, as a community member and as a trauma surgeon, I’m pretty angry,” said Dr. Stephanie Montgomery at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford. “We stand here every year, and we see nothing changing. We are furious that these mass shooting events continue to happen across our country at an astounding rate.”

More than 18,340 people have died from gun violence in the United States so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That includes children and adults who’ve been killed in the recent mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

That’s not to mention the gun violence that takes lives every day in Connecticut neighborhoods and cities, said Montgomery, who serves as chief of trauma and acute care surgery at Saint Francis.

“We should not, as a people, become numb to this,” she said. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need legislation.”

Deborah Davis knows all too well the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence. Her son, Phillip, was shot and killed in Hartford more than a decade ago.

“Our children were not lost,” she said. “They were taken from us by someone who did not think a life was worth living.”

Today, Davis is the director of project development and management at Mothers United Against Violence, an organization that provides support services for gun violence survivors and the families of victims.

Connecticut has bolstered its gun regulations in recent years. A new provision to the state’s “red flag” law took effect June 1. Other programs are working to help vulnerable communities and groups of people who are most at risk of suffering from gun violence.

But still, Davis said more can be done, especially in the areas of prevention and education.

“It’s where you live that now we have to speak up,” she said. “We have to be more proactive than just reactive, because reactive continues to put us in the back seat.”

Dr. David Shapiro, trauma surgeon and chief medical officer at Saint Francis, said in his 15 years at the hospital, he’s seen people from all facets of the community injured or killed by bullets. He condemned any measure that involves putting more guns into people’s hands.

“Guns are not the answer,” he said. “They are not a solution; they are not a treatment; they are not a therapy.”

At the federal level, Democratic-backed proposals in Congress to restrict gun access nationally have been largely blocked by pro-gun Republican opponents.

But in the absence of action and funding dedicated to reducing gun violence, Shapiro said preventable deaths will continue to happen.

“The loss of life to violence that we experience in the Greater Hartford community leaves us inconsolable,” he said. “It’s a sentiment that we share in the hospital, and it’s a sentiment that we share nationwide.”

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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