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Members of Moms Demand Action with Rep. Tony Exum, D, HD-17

The Colorado Springs Police Department reported nearly 1,000 more calls for service for “shots fired” as of Dec. 1, 2020 than in 2019. CSPD also reports 42 more reported shootings this year than in 2019, and 37 homicides as of Dec. 1, 2020, compared to 24 at the same time last year. 

The uptick in gun violence comes after a tumultuous year. COVID-19 has caused severe economic hardship for many individuals and families, and demand for financial and food assistance has grown as the public health crisis forced closures and staffing reductions across a variety of industries. A 2019 study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, “Social determinants of health in relation to firearm-related homicides in the United States: A nationwide multilevel cross-sectional study,” examined the connection between socioeconomic status and gun violence. The study found “increases in the neighborhood percentages of residents in poverty were associated with 26–27 percent and 12 percent higher homicide rates.” 

The data provided by the police department only corroborates what the study said: Poverty equals more gun violence. And it holds true in Southeast Colorado Springs as well — about 54 percent of last year’s 3,305 “shots fired” calls came from Southeast Colorado Springs – 1,070 calls from 80910 and 733 from 80916. According to census data, the average per capita income in Southeast Colorado Springs is just under $19,000, compared to $34,000 in Colorado Springs as a whole.

“It is such a multi-faceted problem, and 2020 has proven to be one of the deadliest years in recent history for cities, including Colorado Springs,” said Julie Carr, local group leader for the Colorado Springs chapter of Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group which focuses on gun violence prevention. “There’s an urgent need for more action on this public health crisis. The good news is we know a lot about what works. It’s just important to note that as COVID has exacerbated the public health crisis of gun violence, and it has also exacerbated the root causes, such as income and housing inequality, and at the same time strained the life-saving social services of our community.”

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Data from CSPD shows a stark contrast between the volume of gun crimes in Southeast Colorado Springs and other parts of the city.

In addition to the economic factors, 2020 was a banner year for gun sales across the country. Spurred by a combination of fears about COVID-19 and widespread, national protests, consumers’ demand for firearms and ammunition — and a rise in first-time gun-buyers — means more guns on the streets. 

“It’s really the perfect storm right now, with the surge in gun sales,” said Carr. “The pandemic has led to a rise in city gun violence, gun suicide, unintentional shootings, domestic gun violence.”

Colorado has taken a legislative approach to both tackle gun violence and strengthen communities through the Transforming Safety initiative. As a result of House Bill 17-1326, approximately $4 million in annual funding is split between North Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs, two areas in Colorado with the highest rates of gun violence, to provide grant funding for nonprofits. However, due to the loss of sales tax revenue because of the economic consequences of the pandemic, funding has been cut for groups like Colorado Springs Works and WeightOut Ministries, which work to lift people out of poverty and interrupt the cycle of violence.

“A really critical piece is we need to identify programs at the local level and champion those programs to make sure they’re supported,” said Carr. “We know there are programs that are effective, but we also know there is a lack of research around gun violence, so we have to work to overcome that. We do have science that tells us what works, so as we enter this new year we really can try to turn the tide on this. As we see Colorado Springs grow, it’s not a secret anymore that our gun violence is rising. I would love to see our city take a proactive stance and address the issue now before the crisis grows any further.” 

Heidi Beedle is a former soldier, educator, activist, and animal welfare worker. She received a Bachelor’s in English from UCCS. She has worked as a freelance writer covering LGBTQ issues, nuclear disasters, cattle mutilations, and social movements.