Galvanizing the Civic Sector to Reduce Gun Violence

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The debate over gun violence swirls in state houses and in Congress.   Heated discussions surround:

  • Ensuring universal background checks and closing gun show loopholes;
  • Banning assault weapons;
  • Banning multi-magazine clips;
  • Giving federal authorities the ability to trace guns; and
  • Increasing the availability of mental health services.

Citing the many American families “whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence,” President Obama, in his State of the Union Address on February 12, passionately urged Congress to vote on the Administration’s proposals to reduce gun violence: “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.  The families of Newtown deserve a vote.  The families of Aurora deserve a vote.  The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”

As the national debate about gun rights has intensified, Bill Dedman, investigative reporter for NBC News, picked the weekend of January 19-21 to examine gun deaths across America.  An excerpt of his report:

By the end of the long weekend [emphasis added]…at least 91 people across America had been killed by guns…more than three times the number of caskets needed in Connecticut after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Based on interviews with police, prosecutors and family members in all but a few of the cases, we tallied 53 homicides where one person killed another.  There were another three homicides where multiple people were killed.  There were six murder-suicides and six suicides.  Five accidental shootings.  Three shootings by police, and at least two by civilians in self-defense.  That’s 78 horrors with 91 dead…you can get killed throwing your daughter a 17th birthday party…buying a taco from a vendor…catching a train.

Grim.  Almost crushing.  But it must not paralyze.  No, we must challenge ourselves, finding ways to enlist the energies of everyone in reducing gun-related deaths and injuries.  While not everyone will agree on legislative remedies, surely we can all rally together to take steps in our own communities to protect children and prevent gun violence.  The point: everyone can do something in the contexts in which they feel most comfortable.  For example:

  • Parents have a right to ask whether firearms are present where their children visit and play and how safely those weapons and ammunition are stored.  Questions about smoking and seatbelts have become routine.  Questions about the accessibility of guns in the home must also become routine.  Parents who are gun owners themselves must ensure their weapons are stored securely.
  • Schools can strengthen emergency procedures and increase the availability of counseling and mental health services.
  • Teens can serve as Big Buddies for junior high school students or serve on teen violence prevention councils.
  • Hospitals can show, as some have, grisly ER videos of surgical attempts to save gunshot victims to vulnerable teens.
  • Universities can buttress mental health services and install anonymous tip lines.
  • Philanthropies can fund proven programs such as mentoring.
  • Businesses can hire teens as part of summer of safety initiatives.
  • Local neighborhood and civic associations can check up on who’s selling guns and how gun show permits are granted.
  • City governments can launch comprehensive violence prevention programs that blend prevention, intervention, suppression, and support for returning offenders.

This represents a beginning.  Over the next several months, I will be working closely with the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the philanthropic sector to develop a list of 10-12 doable actions for each sector.

I welcome any ideas you may have about what actions each of these civic sectors might take (please send your ideas to hopematters@verizon.net).

Legislation, while essential, cannot be our sole focus.  Each of us in our own sphere can do something about the scourge of gun violence that on average, kills 86 Americans every day.

Jack Calhoun is director of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network for NLC and is a senior consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice for its National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.  Additional articles on violence prevention are available on his website at www.hopematters.org.