By Chris Cooney
Bay City News Service
Gun violence in San Mateo County costs taxpayers an estimated $50 million each year, according to a report on youth and guns released Thursday by county officials and the Association of Bay Area Governments.
The report, called "A High Price To Pay: The Economic and Social Costs of Youth Gun Violence in San Mateo County," was presented at a forum hosted by Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, whose district includes Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, one of the cities most impacted by gun violence.
San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow said there are pockets of the county that resemble a "war zone," where gangs and gun violence are inescapable aspects of daily life for young people, mostly at-risk boys.
"Gun violence completely dictates the way they live their life," he said.
Gun violence is as divided by race as it is by geography, he said, taking a much heavier toll on the county's black youth.
"Young black males have an 18-times higher risk of dying from gun violence than their white colleagues," he said.
Aside from the harm done to individuals, gun violence has "massive hidden financial costs" for society as a whole, according to the report.
In an attempt to calculate the total costs associated with fatal and non-fatal gun-related injuries, researchers considered costs associated with criminal proceedings, lost productivity, medical care, and suffering and decreased quality of life experienced by victims.
Each non-fatal gun injury was found to cost society around $46,000 and fatal injuries cost an estimated $6.4 million, according to the report.
"Using these parameters, the cost of the 36 fatal and 133 non-fatal firearm injuries to youth in San Mateo County from 2005 to 2009 will total $234 million over time," the report said.
Speaking at the forum, East Palo Alto Pastor Paul Bains said he was "taken aback" by some of the statistical data being presented.
Mr. Bains said that in order to tackle gun violence among youth, fundamental changes need to be made in the home, where empowering caretakers, parents and role models can effectively impact at-risk boys in the community.
"We've got some things backwards," Mr. Bains said. "We spend more money sending them to state pen than to Penn State."
Ivonne Garcia-Lopez, whose 3-month-old son was fatally shot in East Palo Alto in June, agreed with the pastor, saying that boys like the 17-year-old accused of killing her son become gang members because they don't have enough supervision at home.
"Once they pull a trigger, a whole family gets destroyed," she said.
The 22-year-old mother wept in front of a photo of her son, Izack, who was killed when two gunmen allegedly fired up to 15 gunshots into the family car in a case of mistaken identity.
"Please, people, let's do something about this," she said. "Don't let my baby's death be in vain."
Supervisor Jacobs Gibson said she spearheaded the publication of the report to highlight the issue of gun violence in San Mateo County, to better understand its impacts, and to find community-based solutions to preventing it in the future.
According to the report, the populations of East Palo Alto, Daly City, South San Francisco and Redwood City account for 37 percent of the county's population, but 57 percent of the county's non-fatal gun injuries, and 74 percent that are fatal.