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Podcast: Guns, PTSD, and the ‘Data-Free Debate'

Photo by Michael B./Flickr

The trauma that shooting victims suffer lasts long after their physical wounds heal. Oakland mother Aireana found that fear overcame her when she considered even going out to meet her daughter coming home from school, says Lois Beckett, joining Assistant Managing Editor Eric Umansky in the Storage Close Studio to talk about her latest reporting on guns in America.

Beckett’s report, in collaboration with Essence magazine, highlights the life-changing treatment Aireana received for her post-traumatic stress disorder; many in her position never do. It’s an insidious cycle in high-violence neighborhoods like Aireana’s, where she witnessed her first shooting at age 8.

“This stuff is consistent across the board,” Beckett says.  “Teachers will ask kids in their class –like third graders, fifth graders –How many of you know personally someone who’s been shot? And most kids will raise their hands.”

And while research shows shockingly high rates of PTSD among shooting victims –more than 40 percent at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital – money for screening is hard to come by.

Umansky points to a jarring statistic from Beckett’s reporting, showing that the number of people killed in Philadelphia alone during the Iraq war nearly matched the number of U.S. soldiers killed in the war itself. “You’re talking about really high levels of persistent violence that, you know, frankly, don’t land on the front page of the nation’s newspapers all that often,” Umansky says.

Indeed, unlike the attention and resources that follow mass shootings, the ongoing toll from quotidian gun violence is largely ignored, Beckett says: “There’s horror and tragedy of all kinds, but the resources we give to different people are really different.”

Part of the problem, as her reporting has shown, is how remarkably little we know about how many Americans are being shot each year. “We don’t even know if the number of people being shot is going up or down,” Beckett says, citing a lack of research with roots in a heated political debate.

But as people continue to die – and countless others survive with debilitating trauma – that research couldn’t be more needed, Beckett says. Regardless of the politics, she says, “a data-free debate is a terrible debate.”

Hear the full podcast on iTunes, SoundCloudand Stitcher, or read Beckett’s reporting on PTSD and guns:

Correction: This post and related podcast originally said that 3,113 people were shot and killed in Philadelphia during the years when roughly 3,500 American troops were killed in Iraq. In fact, the first numbers includes all homicides in Philadelphia, 82 percent of which involved guns.

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