6 things you can do right now to help stop gun violence that aren’t “thoughts and prayers”
It feels like every time we check Twitter or turn on the news, there’s another school or mass shooting happening somewhere. Or another black person shot by law enforcement during a traffic stop, or just going about their lives. And then there are the senseless suicides and homicides that happen in our communities every single day. All of these instances of violence can be scary and traumatic, even when you aren’t directly affected by the act of gun violence. But really, these days, we are all connected to gun violence in some way, especially if we’re not taking action to prevent it. Because thoughts, prayers, and moments of silence aren’t going to get us anywhere.
Right now, it feels like there are two extreme sides to the gun violence debate. But advocates say that’s all an illusion that’s been created, in large part, by the National Rifle Association and the lawmakers that take money from it.
In reality, most Americans, including gun owners, support gun safety regulations. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, tells HelloGiggles, “The NRA has created a very vocal minority. When you look at the polling, about 90% of Americans support stronger gun laws. When you look at gun owners, only 1 in 10 [are] a member of NRA. [And] 74% of NRA members even support stronger gun laws.”
Watts adds, "People think that this conversation is about gun owners versus non-gun owners or Democrats versus Republicans. But it's not. It's the vast majority of Americans versus lawmakers who take money from the NRA."
So you aren’t alone if you feel gaslit by legislators who swear that all the gun violence in America isn’t about guns. Because it’s definitely about access to guns.
Today, people around the country are wearing orange for National Gun Violence Awareness Day. If you want to go a step further, here are some things you can do to help stop gun violence in your community.
1Remember that gun violence is more than school shootings and domestic terrorism.
School shootings, such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or “mass shootings” like the Charleston church massacre or the Pulse nightclub shooting, get a lot of attention, often driving the conversation about gun safety. But gun violence is more than that.
It’s suicides by guns, which are more common than homicides even. In the last decade, the suicide rate has gone up by 64% overall for children, and up by 71% for just black children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s almost about domestic and racialized violence: On average, 50 women are shot to death by an intimate partner or spouse every month, and black men are 13 times more likely to be shot than white men, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
Kandace Montgomery, the lead organizer of the Black Lives Matter Global Network and co-founder of BLM Minneapolis, tells HelloGiggles that we have to make sure we’re having a well-rounded conversation about what gun violence really means. She said:
"The topic of gun violence creates an opportunity to have an important conversation in this country. About all kinds of gun violence, about who is affected most by gun violence. About who, in this country, is allowed to be acknowledged as victims of gun violence and why. We think it is important to acknowledge the increasingly visible and sustained violence against black communities. Black people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence."
She added, “Also, we need to acknowledge that black people are dying at the hands of police every single day, police violence is also gun violence. Throughout history, we have seen black activists addressing violence sanctioned by the state. We need to amplify and tell these stories, too.”
2Support “Red Flag Laws” in your state.
Watts and her organization are dedicated to enacting change at a local and state level, even if Congress and the Supreme Court insist on dragging their feet. One way Moms Demand Action has done this is to focus on what they call “Red Flag Laws,” which are laws that allow family members to go to law enforcement if they think a person is a danger to themselves or others, since most shootings are perpetrated by people who have a history of violence or otherwise show signs that they shouldn’t have a gun, like the Parkland, Florida shooter.
Red Flag Laws allow law enforcement to issue restraining orders and prohibit a troubled person from buying a gun. Eight states have already passed Red Flag Laws — California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.
3Support laws that don’t *seem* like they’re related to guns.
Passing Red Flag Laws, banning bump stocks, or requiring stronger background checks are huge steps forward. But BLM, Moms Demand Action, and other groups that advocate for gun violence prevention aren’t always specifically talking about guns.
For example, Moms Demand Action has focused on passing state laws that redefine domestic abuse. They want to ensure that existing laws that prevent domestic abusers from buying guns can also be applied to anyone who stalks or threatens another person, and not just someone who has physically hit their partner. Watts tells HG:
"[When it comes to] disarming domestic abusers, the federal law doesn’t include stalkers. On top of that, the federal law does not give local law enforcement the ability to remove the gun from a domestic abuser who already has one. We have to go into each state and pass those laws. We’ve done that now in 26 states, we’ve broadened the definition of what an abuser is or put a mechanism into the law that allows police to [remove] the guns of someone who’s been convicted of abuse."
Montgomery says that BLM has focused on laws that, on their face, don’t seem directly related to gun violence. For example, her organization is supporting the Jobs and Justice Act of 2018.
She said, “If passed, this legislation would increase the upward social mobility of black families, and help ensure equal protection under the law. This legislation can have an important impact on black and rural communities and other communities of color.”
BLM was also vocal about preventing the federal Protect and Serve bill from becoming law, which would essentially make police a protected class; Montgomery says that’s unnecessary, given existing laws. She explains:
"This bill creates a new statute in Title 18, United States Code, to allow for heightened federal prosecution of defendants who knowingly assault a law enforcement officer causing serious bodily injury. We believe this bill to be superfluous — federal and state law already have substantial protections for police. We also believe this bill uplifts the narrative that positions only police as an entity that needs to be protected, while our movement works to ensure that black people are seen as our full selves, worthy of safety and protection. We feel the creation of this bill is in direct response to the work of Black Lives Matter and the the current iteration of the Black Liberation Movement."
It’s all really about taking a comprehensive look at laws that marginalize certain communities and empower others to get their hands on guns that can kill people.
4Get involved locally.
Getting involved in your community is a great first step if you need to take more action than just studying up on laws. You can join a local Black Lives Matter chapter or follow them on social media for updates on actions and statements. Or donate to the organization to help fund more good work.
You can also join Moms Demand Action by texting “ACT” to 64443 and connect with students or gun violence prevention activists in your community, or text “DONATE” to the same number.
There are also tons of other advocacy groups to donate to and get involved with.
5Register to vote.
This goes without saying, but if you’re not registered to vote, you better get on that. Yes, the federal elections are a big deal, but every single local and state office matters, too. Judges, governors, state senators — all of these seats are ready to be swapped out and given to people who want to change how we regulate guns, police, and who we hold accountable for gun violence.
6Don’t lose hope.
It’s true that on a federal level, things look dreary when it comes to gun violence prevention. But Watts reminds HelloGiggles that actually, a lot has been done, even since Sandy Hook, to make change.
She likens the gun control debate to the movement for marriage equality. When Congress and the Supreme Court were being useless, activists moved to board rooms and state houses to pass laws that would allow same-sex couples to get married.
Said Watts, “They changed laws and policies and culture, and eventually Congress and the Supreme Court went in the right directions. The same thing will happen with guns. It absolutely will, it is happening.” She added:
"Our goal is to make the NRA’s agenda as toxic as possible to companies and lawmakers, so that they are embarrassed to have an A rating from the NRA. A scarlet letter instead of a badge of honor."
Watts added that once organizations like hers are able to get lawmakers to pass one gun safety law — a Red Flag Law, stronger background checks, or changing the definition of domestic abuse, among others — the group becomes more powerful in the state and has the ear of lawmakers who can pass more laws.
So don’t give up or assume ending gun violence is a lost cause. Things are changing, but activists need your help to keep things moving.