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Ohio gun violence costs lives, millions of dollars

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Gun violence in Ohio is costing scores of lives and millions of dollars annually across the state, though much of it happens in the largest cities, according to a newspaper analysis published Sunday.

The Columbus Dispatch analyzed state records and data from 2009, which offer the most recent statewide statistics available. It found guns were present in more than 12,500 incidents investigated by authorities, an average of 34 per day. Four-fifths of those happened in seven of Ohio's largest cities: Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown.

The numbers illustrate the scope of gun violence, but it's an incomplete picture because the crime data was submitted voluntarily by agencies that cover only about 70 percent of Ohio's population.

Ohio had 502 reported slayings in 2009 and 62 percent involved guns, according to the FBI. Firearms also were used in 41 percent of robberies and 24 percent of aggravated assaults.

"If the citizens knew what we know, they'd never leave their house," a Columbus officer recently told the newspaper at the scene of a gun crime.

In addition to the loss of life, gun violence can lead to huge medical expenses, some of which is paid by taxpayers through government programs. A report last year by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital determined firearm injuries in Ohio lead to an average of about $37 million annually in inpatient hospital charges, the newspaper reported. Some of those expenses are for suspected criminals injured in the violence.

"We're going to deal with them one way or another," said Gregory Jefferson, president and CEO of Community for New Direction, a Columbus urban-outreach organization. "We're either going to pay for them in prison, or we're going to pay for them for the hospitalization of the injuries. All of those costs get passed on to us."

But the injured are not always the ones committing crimes. The thousands of gun-violence victims across Ohio include people like 26-year-old Alix Reese, whose spine was severed by a bullet when she slowed for a speed bump while driving in Columbus and got caught in a gang shootout that remains unsolved.

"This really opened my eyes to how much things like that happen in Columbus every day," she said. "Not all the shootings are gang-on-gang violence. Innocent people get hurt, too."

Such crimes have prompted Deanna Wilkinson, an Ohio State University associate professor who studies youth violence, to seek a federal grant to start a Columbus version of the CeaseFire gun violence reduction program, which uses former offenders to help keep conflicts from escalating into violence.

"This exposure (to gun violence), whether you're involved or not involved, it's having a negative impact on the quality of life for the whole entire city," Wilkinson said.

Columbus public safety director Mitchell Brown said he supports the proposal.

"We've got to try something different," Brown said. "We can't have police officers on every corner. We all know that. It's a societal issue."

--- Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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