Unanimous lawmaker support for programs that show how to prevent gun violence

It’s a story that’s hard to fathom.

“June 9, 2016 I was shot 18 times,” said Newark resident Gregory Carter.

Carter became another statistic — among the 45 percent of gunshot victims shot again within five years.

“In 2018, May 4, I was shot seven times,” Carter said.

That downtown Newark shooting killed Carter’s friend, 27-year-old Kelly Wylie, two months after someone shot and killed Carter’s brother in Newark. There wasn’t one arrest in either of the shootings.

Surgeons saved Carter’s life not once, but twice. But, gun possession in last year’s shooting left him handcuffed to a bed at University Hospital where case manager Alikah Green goes bedside to introduce gunshot victims to the Hospital Violence Intervention Program.

Green says skepticism often follows, but she persists, offering access to services and care to end the cycle of violence and trauma so victims don’t become victims again or retaliatory perpetrators. In Carter’s case, the program set him up with medical and pain management care and physical therapy and moved him far away from Newark.

“It actually has done a lot. They’re actually great people,” Green said.

“Preventing a repeat injury in five patients per year renders the program cost-neutral to the health care system,” said Stephanie Bonner, a trauma surgeon at University Hospital.

Bonne heads the 2-year-old Hospital Violence Intervention Program. She says it operates on a shoestring budget of $500,000 in grants a year. Bonne and her team came to Trenton to tell the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee that the program works and how much more it’s needed.

“My brother was murdered due to gun violence and he was 19 years old,” said Camden’s Urban Promise Academy senior Autumn Coleman.

The students and others came to support legislation to create more violence intervention programs in the five New Jersey cities where more than half the 1,000 shootings have taken place and to direct resources to those programs. Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald is the architect of the half-dozen bills.

“These bills will serve as a national model. Every day that we do not act, more people in our state are injured or killed by guns,” Greenwald said.

No gun-rights advocates came here to speak against the package of bills. In fact, there were no speakers who opposed the bills — not the students, not the doctors, not the nonprofits. And for the lawmakers, six unanimous votes to release all six bills from the committee.

“It signals that people — no matter where you are on the issue of guns — are united that we have to do something to prevent violence,” said Farimah Muhammad, executive director of the National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs.

The bills now go to the state Senate.