Violence Prevention is Gun Violence Prevention

When we pledged to take a deep dive into the subject of gun violence following the Parkland shooting, it was a sad truth that we knew there would be more such incidents before the project was complete. Indeed, as we were putting the finishing touches to our next email last week, news broke of the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School.

Once again, our hearts are broken by this tragedy. Once again, we send our thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families and the broader community. And once again, we are determined to do more than just send our thoughts.

So even as we grieve with the people of Texas, we would like to share the email we were working on before Friday’s news broke:

Our first installment looked at some of the national statistics that frame this problem. For this next phase, we’ve been reflecting on an important truth which we think can help all of us move forward from debate and into action.

And that’s this:

Anytime we talk about guns and gun violence, there is a tendency for the conversation to immediately zero in on gun laws and gun rights. While it’s important that none of us, as citizens, shy away from such discussions, we are also mindful of the fact that laws alone cannot solve this.

In any society where guns are present, all efforts toward violence reduction are, in fact, efforts toward gun violence reduction:

  • Suicide prevention is gun violence prevention
  • Domestic violence prevention and bullying prevention is gun violence prevention
  • Gang violence intervention is gun violence prevention
  • Youth development and support is gun violence prevention
  • And socioeconomic development is gun violence prevention

With that in mind, we’ve been gathering a list of projects and initiatives across our movements which we believe are moving the needle toward safer, more equitable and more peaceful communities. Here’s just a small sample of some of our heroes:

YMCA of Yonkers | Project Snug
Project Snug’s 5 person team has a combined total of more than 60 years of incarceration as a result of violence, gang involvement and other criminal activity. These street outreach workers—who have been chosen by a panel of community leaders—use their experience, their connections and their credibility to serve as intermediaries in community conflicts, and to guide gang-involved youth toward resources that can help them choose an alternative path.

Boys & Girls Club of Greater Cleveland | Toy Gun Buyback
After 12-year old Tamir Rice was shot to death by police officers as he was brandishing a pellet gun, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cleveland organized a toy gun buyback books and other prizes. Led by community activist Yvonne Pointer—who lost her own daughter to gun violence some 30 years ago—the goal is to start a conversation about the dangers of guns, both real and imaginary, and to start modeling a community norm where guns are no longer glorified or celebrated.

YMCA of Metro Chicago | Urban Warriors Program
The YMCA of Metro Chicago aims to bring together two groups who have more in common than many people realize: teens from high crime neighborhoods, and combat veterans from our nation’s wars. Together, both groups—who have survived in precarious situations and many of whom may have suffered trauma—work together under a structured program to discuss and process their experiences with violence, develop and share coping skills, and identify the strengths they have developed and how they can channel them to benefit their communities. This trauma-informed approach fosters a unique supportive relationship between military veterans and youth.

ACA, Southeastern EPIC | Suicide Prevention Training
While mass shootings like those in Parkland or Las Vegas naturally garner headlines and attention, it’s important to remember that a majority of gun deaths in the United States occur as a result of suicide. Youth-serving organizations have a key role to play in preventing suicide. This spring, The American Camp Association and the Southeastern EPIC group hosted a full day suicide prevention training for camp directors and staff in Western North Carolina. The training covered both suicide alertness—focused on identifying persons at risk—as well as a broader exploration of community-based suicide prevention approaches.

Bender JCC of Greater Washington | Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 45% of women murdered in the US were killed by an intimate partner, and a University of Pennsylvania study found that 4.5 million women have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. For these reasons alone, domestic violence prevention ought to be a priority in society’s efforts to combat gun violence. But no organization can do it alone. The Bender JCC of Greater Washington has played a lead roll in the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, a community-wide initiative providing clinical and legal support, as well as education and awareness raising across the Greater Washington DC area.

We’d like to thank each and every one of these organizations for continuing to move our country forward. And we would also like to acknowledge that all of you within the youth-serving movements we work with are playing a crucial role in protecting and growing the communities you serve. We would love to hear from you on other innovative projects that are removing harm and—more importantly—reasserting the power of love as an antidote to hatred and violence.

Thank you for doing what you do. Stay safe.