The statistics are hard to ignore, and you may already be familiar with many of them. In 2010, guns took the lives of more than 31,000 Americans in homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour. More than 50 percent of all suicides are committed with a firearm. Firearm injuries are the cause of death of 18 children and young adults (24 years of age and under) each day in the United States. Firearm-related deaths and injuries result in estimated medical costs of $2.3 billion each year—half of which are borne by U.S. taxpayers.
But for many of us, it took the tragedy of the mass killing of 20 first graders and six of their educators in December to open our eyes to the toll of gun violence in this country. And we are not alone. Just look at the overwhelming number of headlines, articles, and newscasts dedicated to this topic. It seems the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., has had the effect of raising society’s consciousness about the drastic costs of gun violence in this country.
But awareness of these costs is not new to many of you in philanthropy, who have made a commitment to reducing gun violence. Here are just a few examples:
- The California Wellness Foundation established its Violence Prevention Initiative in 1992 that focuses on prevention (mentoring and after-school programs), intervention (serving those who are at the highest risk of becoming a victim of violence), and re-entry (working with incarcerated young people providing counseling, job training and placement services).
- The Joyce Foundation works with law enforcement, policymakers, and advocates to develop gun violence reduction and prevention policies that keep communities safe. They created the Fund for a Safer Future with the goal of achieving comprehensive, effective policies to reduce gun injury and death. Other donors involved in that effort are the MacArthur Foundation, the McCormick Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Crown and Goodman Family Foundations.
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supports Cure Violence, a national public health strategy that views violence as a learned behavior that can be prevented using disease control methods. Violence “interrupters” identify people most likely to be involved in gun violence and redirect them to make nonviolent choices.
The key to taking action is realizing that there is not one right answer, but many right answers. Philanthropy can help reduce gun violence by supporting:
- Greater access to mental health services
- After-school programs that provide kids with alternatives to gangs
- High school drop-out prevention initiatives to keep kids in school
- Public information campaigns that educate communities about the violence in their neighborhoods
- Research on gun-related injuries and death
- Advocacy efforts focused on gun policy changes.
All of these activities can make a difference. Don’t let the complexity of the problem paralyze you into non-action.
I know there are many of you working in this area and I want to hear from you. I hope you will contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your story.
This is a conversation in which we all need to participate.
Daria Teutonico is a Network Developer at the Council on Foundations.