Representative Marjorie Decker Speech to Moms Demand Action — September 27, 2021
Thank you for having me tonight, it is good seeing you. I am grateful for the work that Moms Demand Action continues to do. No pandemic is going to stop all of you, and all of us, from working to address the issue of gun violence.
It’s amazing to think back to your inaugural gathering in Boston— you were thoughtful in asking me to help you kick off the first meeting of the Cambridge-Boston Chapter. Do you remember when you were hoping to get 50-70 people in the room for that meeting? Then an estimated 1,000 people joined and packed the Church in Boston. That night we made a commitment to each other, and to parents and children across the state, that we would work together to pass laws that have been proven to reduce gun homicides and suicides in our state. You banded together with me, many of my colleagues, and then Speaker Bob DeLeo to pass the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO)/Red Flag bill.
Sadly, and very likely avoidably, our first formal introduction resulted in over a thousand of us gathering because we were angry and outraged that, once again, someone who should NEVER have been able to possess a gun was able to secure one and murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. Survivors in Parkland linked arms with young people across this nation who have lived in neighborhoods where gun homicide was not a major headline, if a headline at all. Together, that fierce determination fired an intersectional demand for change, accountability, new rules and prevention.
You know the history we have made together— we passed ERPO legislation here in Massachusetts, which only reinforced having the lowest gun homicide rates in the nation. We know that ERPO in Massachusetts has saved countless lives. We don’t know how many lives, but we do know that to date, 39 ERPO petitions have been filed and 28 weapons have been surrendered so far. For every ERPO granted we can’t know how many lives have been saved but we certainly know that there was just cause to believe someone’s life was in jeopardy. Of all of the ERPO petitions filed in Massachusetts since the law was enacted, none have been deemed fraudulent. The US Justice Department has held up ERPO laws as one of the most important pieces of legislation to help reduce gun violence and save lives.
I am proud of our work, which includes working with the many organizations, activists and grieving families who stood with me to help move the ERPO bill into law. Passing this bill was not the end of our journey. For me, it truly was a beginning to a path to really dig deeper and talk to families and organizations that have been holding the grief, pain and loss of life that permeate and ravage families, neighborhoods and schools.
I made a quiet promise to myself that while I would continue to file and advocate for bills that would ensure more responsible access to guns and hold gun manufacturers to a higher standard of accountability, I would also support organizations that are doing important painful life-saving work at the most grassroots level. While we have the lowest gun homicides in the nation, 247 were murdered at the hands of a gun in 2019, the most recent year we have data for. This was a 16% increase from 2010. In Boston, in 2020, we saw that increase go up by 58%, in Worcester it went up by 53%, and fatal shootings in Springfield a year ago went up by 60%. Families in our state are still grieving the loss of loved ones who were snatched from life by way of gun violence.
Organizations like the Louis D Brown Peace Institute are on the ground providing immediate resources to families, everything from financial support for having to bury a loved one to trauma informed services that help victims and those close to the individual responsible for violence to really process that trauma, and to really process its impact on whole families and neighborhoods. They understand that without the tools to process trauma, there can be no healing, and we are back to being in a cycle of retaliatory violence.
Organizations like ROCA Inc. work with young people whose lived experience has been either on the receiving end of violence or as the aggressor of violence. Through their work, they are able to provide interventions that provide individuals with therapeutic skills and engage them in understanding their own trauma through cognitive behavioral therapy. Then, they are also able to participate in a more inclusive mental health first aid approach to teaching life saving emotional skills.
I know there are many many organizations embedded in our communities throughout the Commonwealth, but these are just a few that I’ve come to know and work with. My last example is UTEC which is led by young adults whose lived experiences and the social determinants of their community has predictably denied them a life of security and stability. UTEC’s program helps young people trade violence and poverty for social and economic success. This is done through job training, accessible educational programs and an intensive street outreach and in reach program in carceral facilities.
I talk about these three programs because they represent the root of how to address gun violence as a public health crisis. We need to regulate a common-sense approach to gun ownership and access, and also address the social determinants of the health of communities and individuals. When we have common-sense laws that address gun ownership, we see a dramatic reduction in mass shootings. When we simultaneously address the social determinants of health by addressing economic inequality and insecurity, ensuring everyone has access to good safe housing, nutritious food and access behavioral health services including mental health supports, we will see a reduction in suicide and hand gun violence in our homes and on our streets.
I have continued since our first introduction in March 2018 to support programs like the ones I mentioned, and I have drafted and filed legislation that begins to build a mental health infrastructure for our schools where we NOW can see many of the upstream services have been happening. We know from the data before and during COVID that we were failing to meet the urgency of so many of our young people’s behavioral health. Many of us were doing school from home. We know that the data showed us that before COVID, and certainly during COVID, we failed to meet the urgency of so many of our young people who are in need of mental health support and behavioral health support.
In Massachusetts, we have conducted a survey every two years (The Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey). It shows us that 7th, 8th and 9th graders are particularly vulnerable to suicide ideation. We saw a 47% increase in kids needing to be hospitalized for suicidal ideation or attempts in one local Boston hospital between July and October of last year. I can share more of the alarming statistics, but I know I am being joined by the Samaritans who will provide more heart wrenching data. The number of children and adolescents who have had to go to the emergency room has continued to grow. At one point last winter, there was a 200-400% increase in the number of adolescents stuck in the emergency room for days to weeks waiting for appropriate care. We know that data shows us that adolescent patients seeking emergency room care are twice as common in low income families on Medicaid compared to those fortunate enough to have commercial insurance.
We know that for families of color and immigrant families it becomes even more difficult to access appropriate, culturally competent behavioral healthcare in a timely way. We know that our healthcare system is not only not immune to systemic racism, but can be the source of greater harm and trauma due to the disparities in care for families of color who are more likely to be misdiagnosed, ignored, or not believed. Finally, I will say that one in three Black and Latino Families nationwide face multiple compounding hardships that can include housing insecurity, hunger and unemployment— twice the rate of white and Asian-American families.
So, if thinking this through, you’ve asked me to come here and talk to you about gun violence and its relationship to mental health. For me, while we know there are many people who come from middle class families of extraordinary privilege who still are the perpetrators of gun violence and mass shootings, we also know that we have data to show that if we don’t treat gun violence as a public health issue, we will not get to the heart on how to reduce gun violence, while also changing laws that reduce the ability to access guns that would be used in taking life away. I see that when we lean into demanding as much accountability and change for laws, budgets and results that are necessary to ensure that race and income inequality are no longer a wedge that widens each year in determining healthy outcomes, and we are living in a world where people are thriving not just surviving, we will see immediately a reduction in gun violence.
When we identify organizations in our communities that are doing the work like the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, UTEC and ROCA, we will then signal to all of our neighbors that every life is sacred and worthy of the resources to heal and blossom. We will see a reduction in violence.
When we develop a stronger mental health infrastructure that ensures we are integrating the behavioral health needs of our children into the medical system and providing greater continuity, resources and tools in our school system — where any young person in need of mental health support is responded to with appropriate care when they need it and where they need it —-we will see a reduction in gun violence.
AND YES, when we continue to uphold Massachusetts as an example of how comprehensive common-sense gun ownership laws in fact do save lives and dramatically reduce gun violence at the federal level, we will see a reduction in gun violence.
Finally, when we hold those that profit off the sale of guns that were never made to be used for sport, recreation or vengeance accountable, we then are affirming our determination to live in a safe and civil society by passing laws and insisting that the sanctity of every life requires us to take action on measures that make it hard to murder people with guns–then we will reduce gun violence.
Thank you for having me here with you today, but more importantly for your spirit and shared purpose every day.