Here's why gun violence has been increasing in SoCal, and what can be done about it

Poverty, inequality and gun availability may all be contributing to the rise in gun violence.

ByChristiane Cordero and Grace Manthey KABC logo
Friday, February 3, 2023
Gun violence on the rise in SoCal: Here's why
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Shootings in the city of Los Angeles on average over the last three years were 37% higher than the average from the three years before.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- In May 2007 at three months pregnant, Rose Smith was bringing in her groceries to her then-home in the Nickerson Gardens housing complex in Watts.

As she reached for her door, she said got "caught in the crossfire of someone's argument."

She got shot four times.

One bullet went in her jaw, two in her left arm and the fourth in her spine. She is now paralyzed from the waist down.

"My life flashed right in front of me. It was just instant pain. I was praying to God: Don't let me, don't let me die now, don't let me die. Now is not my time," Smith said.

Doctors at Harbor-UCLA hospital told her there was a chance her baby wouldn't survive.

But Smith was determined.

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She thought, "no, not my baby, we both have to make it through this."

She was right, and she gave her daughter a name to match: Miracle.

"When Miracle first came about in the hospital, and they were telling me that she wasn't gonna make it, the medicine would affect her, I didn't have a doubt. She's excellent. She's perfect in my eyes," Smith said

Smith is now a mother of three: Mariah, 18, Tyrin Jr., 17 and Miracle, 15. She credits her children, her church and her family with helping her adjust.

But, she said, "a person who's a paraplegic will never all the way be healed." And it hasn't been easy.

"As the pregnancy is progressing, I'm having to learn how to adjust without walking and learn how to use my hands and my mouth wired shut," Smith remembered.

"The pain, excruciating pain, the nerve spasms, it just was a tragedy that no one should ever have to experience due to somebody's ignorance of shooting a gun. I'm an innocent victim, didn't deserve it. No one out here deserves it," she said.

Many factors are likely contributing to the rise in gun violence

In recent years, gun violence has increased across different geographic areas and different metrics.

Shootings in the city of Los Angeles on average over the last three years were 37% higher than the average three years before, and on par with 2010 totals.

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The most recent data available from the California Department of Justice shows assaults with a gun across Southern California rose to 15,000 in 2021, levels not seen since the early 2000s.

And mass shootings nationwide - defined by the Gun Violence Archive as shootings where four or more people were killed or injured - have also increased in the last three years.

According to experts, there's not just one reason.

"I mean, we can point to the pandemic. But that can't be everything," said Suzanne Verge, Los Angeles chapter president of Brady, a gun-violence prevention organization. Her own brother was shot and killed in Santa Monica in the 1970s.

Verge said one factor could be an increase in guns themselves.

Cal State Northridge criminology and justice studies professor and former police officer Eric Gamino echoed the sentiment.

"It's no surprise that you see that there's a correlating effect between the accessibility, availability of a gun and gun violence," Gamino said.

Research from Everytown shows in most cases, states like California with stronger gun laws also have lower rates of gun violence.

"For us here in California, we have found that strong gun laws do save lives. So California has passed over 50 of the strongest gun laws in the country," Verge said.

But Gamino pointed out that restrictive gun policies can't be the only solution - especially when neighboring states might not have the same restrictions.

"If you have restrictive gun policies you are going to see less gun violence, right? But you can just go to the bordering state, purchase a weapon, and then bring it into the state that has restrictive gun policies," he said.

Which is why the increase in gun violence - and solutions to bring numbers down - is about more than just the guns themselves.

Addressing the 'holistic picture'

"The root cause of crime is poverty, right? Marginalization, oppression," Gamino said.

"It's no surprise that these areas that have either a high rate of gun violence or high rate of crime are impoverished communities. And these same communities suffer from systemic inequality where they've been marginalized, forgotten. They're under-resourced. So, then you have the social conditions that then create these opportunities for crime for these individuals, because they see no other way out," he continued.

Zeroing in on the city of Los Angeles, the areas with the highest shooting rates are the same areas with lower income, less education and even more people without health insurance.

"We're led to believe that everyone has an equal opportunity at success. However, you have these systemic issues at play that prevent people from succeeding in life. So if you do not have a legitimate opportunity to achieve success, what are you going to resort to? These illegitimate opportunities."

From Rose Smith's perspective, mental health, poverty and drug use are all factors.

"I think that needs to be a major thing that people focus on right now," she said. "A lot of that plays into it."

And because the paths to gun violence are so complex, Verge said addressing the "holistic picture" is important.

"We have to have community violence programs, interventionists. We really have to look at economics, opportunities, it's a big problem. And there's not a simple answer," she said.

Verge added that it's important for communities, Congress and the courts to work together, but that means change will be "incremental."

Gamino said the root causes of gun violence that he mentioned: poverty, marginalization and oppression haven't "occurred overnight."

"So just like it took years to create these conditions, it's going to take years to solve," he said.

Smith said resources exist, but "we just have to get out and find them. Nothing will come to you."

She said decision-makers need to support organizations that helps grieving families and victims of gun violence.

But the biggest thing victims need is closure, Smith said. It's something she never got.

"Find the person who's done the wrong. The family needs to know that justice was served. Period," she said.