Analyzing and mapping gun violence data in Seattle & King County

Many of us have become numb to the latest news of firearm deaths across America. At least once almost every week there is news of a shooting in a school, workplace, church, home, or other public place. National news during the past 10 days included a school shooting in Colorado and reports of a spike in suicides among veterans. I live in mostly peaceful Edmonds. But the past year in Edmonds saw its share of gun violence, gun-related suicide, gun-store thefts, a city council ordinance requiring safe storage of firearms and the inevitable lawsuit claiming the ordinance violates Second Amendment rights.

Public Health – Seattle & King County works to understand how, when, and where guns are used unsafely. They work to enhance understanding of the issue at the community level. Their goal is to raise public awareness of firearm safety practices and develop evidence-based prevention programs in partnership with stakeholders. They also work to mitigate the collateral trauma that comes to communities when they experience firearm fatalities.

Recently, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s blog, Public Health Insider, published an article titled Data Dive: What our Latest Numbers Show About Firearm Homicide in King County.

The article includes a link to a report titled Firearm Deaths Among Residents of King County and Seattle. King County and Seattle have lower rates of firearm deaths attributed to homicide and suicide than either Washington state as a whole or the entire United States.

The report contains a number of useful graphics that show variations in firearm deaths by type from 2000 through 2016. Other graphics compare firearm death rates by age group, race/ethnicity, sex, and neighborhood poverty levels.

Of particular interest to GIS & You readers, this report also includes a series of maps that show the variable rates of firearm homicide and suicide for residents across King County, and within neighborhoods in large King County cities, including Seattle. This report is a useful resource to gain insights into the variables of firearm deaths among residents in our community.

Firearm deaths themselves traumatize communities. Understanding geographic concentrations can help Public Health – Seattle & King County target programs to understand, address, and prevent community trauma. A report by the Prevention Institute, (Adverse Community Experiences and Resilience: A Framework for Addressing and Preventing Community Trauma), presents a framework for addressing and mitigating community trauma, which Public Health – Seattle & King County uses as a resource for program planning.

I personally had not much thought about the trauma that comes to a community when it experiences firearm related fatalities. However, writing this article caused me to recall that in 1982, while working in San Francisco on the 18th floor of the Stewart Street Tower of One Market Plaza, I witnessed a mass shooting in offices on the 18th floor of the Spear Street Tower of the same complex. This single paragraph has taken me an hour to write. I understand better the important work that Public Health – Seattle & King County is doing to address community trauma.

For a nationwide view of firearm deaths, the National Center for Health Statistics‘ website, Firearm Mortality by State, provides a means of comparing Washington with the country as a whole. Unfortunately these data show an uptick in firearm mortality within Washington in 2017, compared to 2016 and prior years.

National Center for Health Statistics, Firearm Mortality by State

Another useful resource is the work of the Stanford Geospatial Center presented in Mass Shootings in America: A Geographic Approach. As noted in its description, “This project story map compares the Brady Scorecard for the Prevention of Gun Violence to mass shooting prevalence and mental health spending per state.” 

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