Partnership Takes Aim at Gun Violence

Broad Ripple High School students partcipated in a National School Walkout March 14 to protest gun violence. Photo courtesy IPS

by Thomas P. Healy

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) and Eskenazi Health have teamed up to offer presentations that seek to prevent gun violence among young people. Educating Kids About Gun Violence (EKG) is a presentation developed by the partnership 15 years ago, when Eskenazi was known as Wishard.

“We discuss the consequences—legal, medical, and emotional—of possessing guns and of gun violence,” says Andrew Wignall, deputy prosecuting attorney in the MCPO. He has lost count of the number of times he has given the presentation during his decade of service, but still considers it effective. “It’s hard to calculate things that don’t happen, but we definitely think if it gets through to one kid, it’s worth it.”

Wignall said the presentations craft scenarios for attendees and the group talks through different ways to handle a given situation. “Our goal is that if kids find themselves in these situations, they make the right choices,” he said. For example: “If someone has a gun, do not touch the gun, don’t take the gun. We try to give attendees the basic tools to resolve conflicts without guns.”

An Eskenazi emergency room nurse or doctor helps Wignall with the presentation by showing graphic images of gunshot wounds. “Sometimes people gasp when they see the emergency room photos and some don’t want to look at them—and that’s OK,” Wignall said. “For others, it’s not a big deal—their friends or family members have been shot and they’ve seen it before.”

Besides the gruesome images, there’s time for Wignall to talk about what he calls “the legal stuff. How the legal system works. For example, if they pass along a gun to somebody who commits a crime, they could be held responsible,” he said.

Presentations are tailored for the age of the audience. “One is for younger kids and one is more graphic, for older kids,” he said. The free hour-long program is offered throughout the county to youths in all grades from kindergarten through high school. Family members are encouraged to attend too. “Any time a parent can sit in, it’s helpful,” Wignall said.

An upcoming presentation for young people ages 13 through 18 and their families will be offered in Midtown at Reach for Youth’s headquarters in Mapleton-Fall Creek, 3505 N. Washington Blvd.

Chris Ponti is the diversion manager at Reach for Youth, the 40-year-old youth service bureau that offers a range of support services to young people involved in the criminal justice system who need a second chance. “We provide mental health services to families and have a teen court program,” he said. EKG is one of many resources his agency uses to serve families in Indianapolis and surrounding counties.

Ponti’s colleague Aaron McBride, who directs Reach for Youth’s teen court and prevention services, says EKG aligns with the organization’s mission. “We seek to empower individuals and families. What we’re trying to do is use EKG as an educational tool so they understand on a different level what gun violence can do to an entire community.”

As an example of the community-wide effects of gun violence, McBride points to the grief counseling his organization provided at Warren Central High School last year after students were killed by gun violence. “It impacted the entire community, not just one individual.”

One Reach for Youth neighbor is a big fan: State Representative Greg Porter (D–District 96). “Reach for Youth is right around the corner from my house,” he said. “They have an incredible way to engage students through mock trials. It helps them begin to understand and develop leadership skills.”

Porter is also supportive of the EKG program and its ability to take advantage of what he called “a truly teachable moment. It’s another tool in the toolkit of community engagement—it’s very meaningful.”

A free EKG program in Midtown is scheduled for 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 15, at Reach For Youth, 3505 Washington Blvd. Space is limited, so registration is requested at the Reach For Youth website. To schedule a free presentation for your school, youth group, or service organization, contact MCPO@indy.gov or call 317-327-3522.

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