In December 2019, the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force submitted its preliminary report to the public during an hour-long presentation. While I was not a member of the task force, I have attended several public meetings and had an interest in the findings as the county executive had expressed a desire to declare gun violence a public health crisis.
The data presented on December 19 delivered staggering numbers with the overwhelming cause of death by firearm being the result of death by suicide. Of the 209 gun-related deaths from 2013 to 2017, 141, or 67%, were self-inflicted, 30% were homicide, 2% accidental discharge and 1% the result of legal interventions.
Resolution 2-20 was introduced shortly after the findings were released, declaring suicide a public health crisis in Anne Arundel County and requesting immediate action by the Department of Health. While my colleague from District 3 was the lead sponsor of the resolution, it had my full support and desire to go beyond the language that focused on firearms. Why, you may ask.
First, I believe homicide and suicide must never and should never be conflated. Homicide is a criminal act involving one or more individuals suspected of a crime toward a victim or victims. Homicide is handled through our criminal justice system by state and federal laws. Death by suicide is a self-inflicted act by a person who typically has a history of mental health issues either related to biology, trauma or other factors. To combine homicide and suicide into the same conversation further alienates and creates a negative stigma around mental health.
Death by suicide is not a criminal violent act. Instead it is a desperate act taken by someone who is and has been suffering. Homicide and suicide are very different.
Secondly, when discussing death by suicide, I believe we must look beyond a single method to have a broader understanding of what is happening in our communities. Data provided by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health showed that between 2014 and 2018, the number of non-fatal suicide attempts per year increased from 899 to 1,041. Based on this information, hearing from members of the mental health community and families impacted by death by suicide, I amended Resolution 2-20 with the support of the council. The amended resolution broadened the scope of methods beyond the use of a gun, and it requests the Department of Health to continue to work with stakeholders to deliver services, expand awareness of this issue, reduce stigma, and ensure access to care to help those affected by mental illness.
During public hearing on the evening of Tuesday, January 21, members from our community bravely testified about their personal battles with taking their own life, and/or losing a loved one to death by suicide. They shared the stigma that creates barriers in asking for support, the obstacles faced in accessing resources and the isolation they have felt from their communities.
Resolution 2-20 as amended passed unanimously, sending a clear message that the Anne Arundel County Council, which also sits as the board of health twice a year, would like to double down the county’s efforts to address mental health in our communities and specifically allocated financial recourses in future budgets.
As I’m writing this column at the end of January, a full list of legislation is about to come before the council in February. Short-term rental taxation and licensing continue to be debated through Bills 88-19 and 89-19 respectively. Additional bills up for public hearing on February 3 are the subsidies for the recently approved wastewater extension project, which creates incentives for converting septic to sewer. One piece of legislation would allow housing of elderly of moderate means to be a conditional use, or allowed with conditions, in areas zoned for two homes per acre (R2) or five homes per acre (R5). A bill to authorize the use of school bus monitoring cameras for Anne Arundel County Public Schools and a bill to address the abandonment of utilities (poles or underground wires) in county right-of-ways.
To be heard during our Tuesday, February 18, public meeting is Bill 6-20. I introduced this bill in January to protect the watermen who have been operating in our residential communities for generations. The watermen’s business and way of life can be jeopardized as their surroundings change within communities. This industry provides an economic benefit to the county by both providing jobs and local restaurants with fresh-caught seafood from area waterways. Watermen have a long, rich history in our county and this bill is important to protecting their future.
It is my honor to continue to serve you in the fifth district. As the council prepares for the fiscal year 2021 budget, please reach out to share your thoughts and concerns. I can be reached for budget, or any other constituent-related matters, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.