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  • Frank Romo

Mapping Gun Homicides in California

Gun Violence Prevention Efforts

 Hope and Heal Fund  is the only state-based donor collaborative partnering with philanthropic and community leaders to invest in proven solutions and equitable strategies to intervene, interrupt, and prevent gun violence and firearm suicides in homes and communities. As an equity-focused fund, Hope and Heal Fund strategically focuses efforts to reduce gun violence, advance systems change, and improve racial equity. The intersection of these three areas informs our strategies, funding, and approach.


Visit Hope and Heal Fund's website to join our efforts:  https://hopeandhealfund.org/ 


Thanks to the meaningful investment and support from Kaiser Permanente, the  California Gun Homicides 2014 - 2022 dashboard  was built to visualize and conceptualize the available data of reported gun homicides; and is part of a larger effort by  Hope and Heal Fund  and  RomoGIS Enterprises  to raise awareness about where and when gun-related homicides have occurred in California communities.


The team harnessed the collective power of gun violence prevention community stakeholders, data-gathering processes, and technology to publicize near real-time and accurate gun-related homicide data, which is needed in order to create actionable change to improve the safety and quality of life throughout California's communities. This project is an example of the strategic approach of Hope and Heal Fund, and we are hopeful that this challenges our field and contributes to furthering efforts to reduce gun violence in our state and across the country.

Hope and Heal Fund in Oakland, CA sharing the GIS Dashboard


Our goal for this mapping project is to better contextualize and visualize current gun homicide data in California. Our efforts are intentionally aligned with the  Violence Policy Center 's recommendations "...to make current public databases more easily accessed and understood to increase their utility" (June 2019). We understand the available gun violence data is currently difficult for communities to utilize for actionable change. That is why we built both a filter by year and/or by county buttons along with an interactive chart in the dashboard, as well as made county-specific visualization tools, so that users of the dashboard can easily see and interact with available gun violence data for the state of California. With generous funding from Kaiser Permanente, Hope and Heal Fund and RomoGIS are able to do this work to better understand how to support California communities impacted by gun violence. 


This effort initially set out to counter inaccurate assumptions regarding urban centers being the primary drivers of gun homicides in California. The map clearly illustrates that non-urban settings are being impacted and contribute heavily to the total firearm homicides. Despite achieving our initial goal, this map has led to larger questions that we are currently investigating and attempting to map. Additionally, we hope communities, philanthropic organizations, the nonprofit sector, governmental stakeholders, and other key partners will utilize and benefit from this information. Specifically, we ask partners and stakeholders to consider the implications of this information and how it can be leveraged to develop opportunities that are strategic, focused, and surgical in reducing gun violence across the state.



California Gun Homicides 2014 -2022 Dashboard


Gun Violence is a Chronic Public Health Issue


Gun violence in America continues to threaten public health and safety within our homes and communities. Gun violence is the leading cause of death of children and teens in our country (ages 0-19).


Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. (2022). A Year in Review: 2020 Gun Deaths in the U.S.


Gun Violence in California



According to the  Centers for Disease Control (CDC) , California had the 7th lowest rate of firearm mortality in the nation in 2020, yet a rate of 8.5 deaths per 100,000 total population is still unacceptable. In 2020, communities across the state of California experienced a  total of 3,449 gun deaths of which 1,732 were homicides . While the rate of firearm mortality may be lower in California compared to other states, California communities experienced an all-time high of 1,861 gun homicides in 2021.



California Gun Homicides 2014 -2022 Chart


Available California Gun Homicide Data


The CDC’s Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research ( WONDER ), the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System ( WISQARS ), the  California Department of Justice  Homicide dataset, and the California Violent Death Reporting System ( Cal-VDRS ) are all websites that share public datasets and reporting mechanisms for gun violence. However, only some publicly available data includes county-level gun homicide details. Data at the local level is needed for improved gun violence prevention (Violence Policy Center, June 2019). The  Gun Violence Archives  (GVA) offers closer to real-time gun homicide data for the entire United States. The GVA documents incidents of gun violence and gun crime nationally to provide independent, verified data to those who need to use it in their research, advocacy, or writing. 


Data Limitations

The issue with county-level data is that it is aggregated, which gives more generalized data at the higher county level and loses some important details and perspectives of gun violence at the more localized granular level. At the national level, the CDC data tends to have a delay of nearly a year or more before it is released, meaning data-informed strategies to address gun violence in California communities are greatly delayed. Additionally, the Gun Violence Archive is an example of a nongovernmental agency collecting data that reports gun violence down to the incident level and offers public access through an online database, yet the precision of the data is not consistent and the raw data is difficult to access. Therefore, gun violence data could be improved beginning with curating geographical visuals of available authoritative gun violence data sets in an effort to gain a more accurate and holistic visual representation of the gun violence issue in California given the lack of standardized gun violence data collecting and reporting (Violence Prevention Center, June 2019).


As an equity fund, it is necessary for Hope and Heal Fund to question conventional data collection practices that contribute to inequity, specifically those practices that do not accurately depict the disparities of gun violence in communities of color. The GIS grouping clearly illustrates the problem that is created when gun homicides that are concentrated in particular geographic locations or cities are combined with the total county population. In many cases, it creates a ranking that makes a county seem safe unless you happen to live in a gun violence-impacted community. Unfortunately, this typically means a community of color. Consequently, counties that are considered “safe” based on homicide rates may have some of the highest gun homicide rates in the state when narrowing our focus on a particular geographic concentration. 


Project Findings

Rural Counties are Disproportionately Impacted by Gun Violence

California Gun Homicides Per Capita Rate by County (2010 - 2020)



Project Implications

With accurate and timely data, Hope and Heal Fund’s goal is to strategically support communities severely impacted by gun violence and firearm suicides while leveraging the expertise and capacity of our philanthropic partners. Historically, philanthropic investments made in gun violence prevention efforts and community development have focused on large urban areas. We hope that this effort brings to light current limitations in data collection and the critical need to improve data-sharing practices and policies. Real-time and accurate gun violence data is needed for community partnerships to act collaboratively and cohesively to advocate for timely and needed solutions and strategies that will keep communities safe and free from gun violence. 


Data Considerations / Potential Impacts

We feel that our GIS map of California points to some critical factors to consider. These factors have potential implications that community, philanthropic, non-profit, governmental, and other partners should contemplate. As a philanthropic partner, we urge allies in this work to consider:

  • Approximately 2/3 of gun homicides in California over the past 9 years occurred outside of California’s 10 largest cities.

  • Possible Implications/Recommendations: We need to continue to support efforts in urban centers to build on successes in those areas. However, we must recognize that rural, semi-rural, and suburban areas are driving gun homicides in our state and the rates must be abated.

  • Total gun homicides need to be disaggregated to understand how many of these homicides are intimate partner related.

  • Possible Implications/Recommendations: Typically, general homicide data emanating from law enforcement is not fully disaggregated and may minimize the impact and numbers of homicides deriving from intimate partner violence, which can lead the public and policymakers to conclude that all or most gun homicides are associated with “street violence” or “community violence” and are the primary drivers of gun violence. This potentially inaccurate narrative does little to support strategies that address victims of intimate partner violence. Disaggregated data should provide better insight and support strategies that align with the types of homicides that occur in communities and ensure that intimate partner homicides are funded at appropriate levels. Additionally, disaggregating homicides by type will allow partners (philanthropic partners, service providers, government, and others) to align funding and interventions with gun homicide type; interventions would vary considerably between intimate partner homicides and other types of homicides.

  • Total gun violence data by type should be utilized to discern the actual impact on communities.

  • Possible Implications/Recommendations:  While our initial map identifies total gun homicides across the years, we recognize that it is a metric that needs to be disaggregated by type. Additionally, we can infer from national data that half or more of all gun deaths are suicides in a typical year. Therefore, to truly understand the real impact of gun violence and utilize data in a way that can sharpen the focus of funding and help align congruent interventions, we must include firearm suicide data.



  • Investments in gun violence prevention need to be driven by data (GIS).

  • Possible Implications/Recommendations: Data must drive our investments to ensure impact and long-term sustainable gains. Investments therefore should include support for these efforts; additional resources from government and philanthropy for data mapping and advocacy of equitable systems to make data available for mapping (e.g., CalVDRS, County Coroners, etc.) The diffused nature of gun violence data obscures the human impact, the disparities, complicated strategies, and the total financial cost to communities. Hope and Heal Fund feels strongly that GIS mapping is an excellent vehicle that allows us to braid data from a variety of sources to guide us in developing sustainable strategies that address disparities and reduce gun violence.



Conclusion

The sharing of these new tools in the  California Gun Homicides 2014-2022 Dashboard  and the California Gun Homicides by County 2010-2020 Dashboard provide updated city and neighborhood, location-based perspectives to the discussion of where gun homicides have occurred in California communities using available gun violence datasets. We hope to spark collaborative conversations that will lead to using resources intentionally based on more accurate data to address the issue of gun homicides in California so that fewer lives are lost and more healing can take place in our communities. 



Comparison of California Statewide Gun Homicide Maps



Hope and Heal Fund is grateful to Kaiser Permanente, for its support in funding this important work for gun violence prevention.


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