Majority of Californians have been affected by an ‘experience of violence’

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Violence may have an even more widespread impact on society than many think, a new study contends. Researchers from UC Davis Health find that nearly two-thirds of all Californians say they have had an “experience of violence.”

Although only a small number of people actually witness or are the victim of a violent crime, study authors say the impact of these events reach far beyond the crime scene. Their survey of nearly 2,900 people found over 64 percent say they have either heard gunshots in their neighborhood, passed a sidewalk memorial for a violent death, or learned about violent incidents from their social media network.

“If we ask broadly about the experience of violence, rather than focusing on acute events, we find that two-thirds of Californians have a direct personal stake,” says UC Davis Professor Garen Wintemute in a university release. “Our main conclusion is that almost everybody is touched by this, and we’re a state with relatively low rates of firearm violence. I would expect the situation would be worse in many other states.”

Millions feel the effect of violent crime

In terms of this broader view of violence, researchers estimate that 3.4 million Californians have had over three experiences of violence (EVs). Another five million personally know multiple people who have been intentionally shot by someone. Three million know at least one person at risk of harming themselves or others.

“We had people who responded that they passed sidewalk memorials 25 times or more a week,” adds Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Health Violence Prevention Research Program. “I thought, at what point does living in your neighborhood resemble living in a cemetery? What does that do to your sense of a future for your community and yourself?”

The survey also reveals men and women in California have generally similar experiences with violence in their state. However, people who do not own a gun but live with someone who does report more EVs through their social networks than others. That includes people who do and don’t own firearms, who both report experiencing fewer EVs.

“If people who live in homes with guns, but don’t own guns themselves, have these many experiences of people at risk of violence, they could be a whole new resource for intervention,” Wintemute suggests. “Maybe we can work with them to help at-risk people and reduce suicides and possibly other firearm violence.”

Should government further tighten gun laws?

In California, the Gun Violence Restraining Order can temporarily take away a gun owner’s firearms if officials deem them to be at risk of harming themselves or others.

With that in mind, researchers argue that secondhand gun ownership may have similar health outcomes to secondhand smoke. Study authors are now following up on this survey by measuring how EVs may affect a person’s mental and physical health.

“If we show they are associated with ill effects, we may be able to intervene,” Wintemute concludes. “There are few people in California who can say this does not affect them, and since we’re all involved, let’s work together on solutions.”

The findings appear in the journal Injury Epidemiology.

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