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Using local public health powers as a tool for gun violence prevention: The Baltimore Youth Ammunition Initiative

Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH1, Nancy L. Lewin, MPH2, Peter L. Beilenson, MD, MPH3, Julie Samia Mair, JD, MPH2, Melisa M. Lindamood, MPA4, Stephen P. Teret, JD, MPH2, and Daniel W. Webster, ScD, MPH1. (1) Center for Gun Policy and Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Sch of Public Health, 624 North Broadway, Hampton House, Room 594, Baltimore, MD 21205-1996, 410-955-7982, jvernick@jhsph.edu, (2) Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 624 North Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205, (3) Baltimore City Department of Health, 210 Guilford Ave., 3rd Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202, (4) Baltimore City Health Department, 210 Guilford Avenue, 3rd Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202

DEVELOPMENT Firearm-related homicide is the leading cause of death for residents of Baltimore, MD ages 15-24. Information from the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) indicated that young people were illegally obtaining handgun ammunition from a variety of local businesses. In collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, designed an innovative intervention to address this problem: “The Youth Ammo Initiative.”

IMPLEMENTATION The Health Code of Baltimore City grants the Health Commissioner broad authority to abate risks to the public’s health. Maryland law also preempts local governments from most regulation of firearms. But an exception to the preemption law permits local regulation “with respect to minors.” Therefore, working with the BPD, “stings” were conducted from May-July 2002 of several local businesses suspected of selling ammunition to minors. When an illegal sale occurred, the offending business was shut down by the heath department – much as it might temporarily close a restaurant selling tainted food – pending abatement of the violation.

EVALUATION In addition to the successful stings themselves, the Youth Ammo Initiative resulted in the enactment of two local ordinances heavily regulating ammunition sales, and restricting the neighborhoods in which ammunition could be sold. As a result, the number of businesses permitted to sell ammunition decreased by 46%. Using his existing public health authority, Dr. Beilenson highlighted the role that health commissioners can play in gun violence prevention. Currently, we are working to expand upon this general strategy in other U.S. cities.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of this session, the participant will be able to

Keywords: Firearms, Health Departments

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
Organization/institution whose products or services will be discussed: Baltimore City Health Department; Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research
I have a significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.
Relationship: Faculty member of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research

Firearm Policy and Injury Prevention

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA