What Are We Doing About Gun Violence?

Originally published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Recently, there was the Los Angeles International Airport shooting—before that, it was the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard, the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Aurora movie theater, Gabby Giffords in Tucson. Before that, it was Columbine High School, and so on. With every horrific story of gun violence, we vow to amend gun laws so that they require universal background checks and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. We talk about increasing spending on mental health programs. Then, as the news coverage fades, so does our attention.

Meanwhile, gun violence continues to happen outside of the spotlight every single day. Using data from a dedicated Twitter feed that tracks “gun deaths in the [United States] regardless of cause and without comment” and figures from the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionSlate magazine estimates that “roughly 29,776 people have died from guns in the [United States] since the Newtown shootings”—that’s an average of more than 90 deaths per day between December 14, 2012, and November 8, 2013.

Bills drafted to address this problem—such as Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey’s bipartisan proposal to expand background checks on gun purchases last April—have failed, making it clear that there is powerful resistance to enacting measures that would help curb gun violence. Gun lobbyists, for example, believe restrictive legislation infringes on their constitutional rights, and the firearms industry wants to continue to enjoy legal protections, such as consumer product liability lawsuit immunity under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, that other industries do not.

Despite these and many other challenges, some innovators are finding ways to intervene and disrupt the violence. To amplify the conversation as we mark the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, this series will share interviews with leaders who are spearheading initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence and preventing mass tragedies. These influencers come from diverse backgrounds—including media, politics, and entertainment—and are shaping how we think and talk about safety in our country; they are working across sectors to improve the state of our nation. Here’s a preview:

Reuters journalist Rob Cox, a resident of Newtown, Conn., helped form the Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting family members impacted by the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and reducing the causes of gun violence to prevent future tragedies. The Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative aims to engage the technology industry in creating businesses that provide gun violence-reducing solutions. Inspired by the Initiative, several Silicon Valley investors formed the Smart Tech Foundation and recently launched the Smart Tech Firearms Challenge with a $1 million prize to entice entrepreneurs to focus on safety. A committee of technical and investment advisors reviews proposals, then pairs participants with development teams and awards prizes to the best ideas. This type of civil campaign is a first-of-its-kind and may provide a model for the technology industry to tackle other timely political issues.

Second-term Mayor of Philadelphia Michael A. Nutter has created an anti-violence agenda for Philadelphia, as well as other cities across the country. Along with New Orleans Mayor Landrieu, Mayor Nutter launched Cities United in 2011 as a collaborative effort among mayors, foundations, national nonprofits, federal agencies, and youth to interrupt the cycle of violence among urban African-American males. The initiative engages those most at-risk of committing violence in discussion about preventing future incidents, and develops practical recommendations for violence reduction at both the municipal and national level.

Musician, writer, and speaker Mike de la Rocha works in criminal justice, spirituality, and self-development, and uses his art as a way to stimulate conversation, build community, and inspire change. In 2012, he kicked off The Living Rooms Across America Tour, with stops in 10 of the most violent cities in the United States. Through a combination of living room performances and intimate discussions with policymakers, cultural influencers, and community leaders about reducing violence, de la Rocha hopes that the power of music will help shift public conversation. A documentary about the inaugural tour by filmmaker Dream Hampton is scheduled for release in 2014.

Through grassroots and localized efforts, these safety advocates are testing new strategies to address the issue of gun violence in America. We hope you’ll join us over the coming weeks to learn more about the creative efforts underway. It’s our belief that the more we talk about the role of guns in American society and acknowledge the reality of this situation, the closer we will come to making progress on this issue; the individuals featured in this series demonstrate that every one of us can play a role in preventing violence—we simply have to engage.

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