Mass shootings intensify reform efforts at grassroots level

AP , Tuesday 7 Jun 2022

With protests planned for Saturday after the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Buffalo, New York, gun control advocates hope to intensify pressure on Congress to pass laws and additional funding for research to help curb the growing violence.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, with former Democratic US Representative Gabby Giffords (R), speaks during the opening of the Gun Violence Memorial on National Mall in Washington, DC on June 7, 2022.


And they say they're prepared to use philanthropic money and their own fundraising to support their advocacy until public attention forces meaningful changes.

Noah Lumbantobing, a spokesman for March for Our Lives, says he's seen the strategy succeed before.

After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, that killed 17, students formed the anti-gun violence group and led mass protests across the country. In response, former President Donald Trump's administration banned bump stocks, which was the accessory a shooter used to kill scores at a country music festival in Las Vegas the previous year.

``Trump is not our friend _ we know that,'' Lumbantobing said, speaking through the din of protests outside the National Rifle Association convention in Houston last month. ``He's not our political ally, but the temperature in the country got so high he couldn't ignore us.''

This time, March for Our Lives and other gun control groups plan to mobilize supporters to push Congress to require universal background checks, pass red flag laws allowing guns to be confiscated in certain cases and raise the age limit to buy certain guns.

All that said, they recognize that political leaders have not delivered meaningful action on gun control in America.

``If it wasn't for the movement, I would not have any faith in politicians,'' Lumbantobing, 26, who is based in New York, told The Associated Press. ``But given that the movement is so strong and it's so clear that it is so strong, I think something will happen.''

In a speech last week, President Joe Biden proposed numerous reforms, including restoring a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as implementing background checks and red flag laws. At the same time, he made clear he recognizes that Republican opposition makes it unlikely that most of those changes will become law.

``I know how hard it is,`` he said. ``But I'll never give up. And if Congress fails, I believe this time a majority of the American people won't give up either.``

Surveys show that the Republican resistance to gun control doesn't reflect the views of a majority of Americans. Most U.S. adults think mass shootings would occur less often if guns were harder to get and believe that schools and other public places have become less safe than they were two decades ago, polling finds.

Nonprofits, community groups and advocacy organizations say they have gained insight into why gun violence occurs and how to reduce it, including interventions that don't require legislation.

Increasing funding for research, investing in frontline organizations working to prevent gun violence, donating to advocacy groups and taking part in mass movements, advocates say, can help reduce shooting deaths and injuries.

Though gun violence is among the leading causes of death in the U.S., Congress has allocated little funding over the years to study it. Research about gun violence was effectively halted in 1996 by an amendment to a federal spending bill. That suspension was reversed in 2018 after the Parkland shooting. Congress allocated $25 million to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health to fund gun violence research.

That 20-year gap in federal funding means that gun violence has received less study than have other major deadly public health issues like car crashes, smoking or HIV, according to Andrew Morral, director of the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research.

``We don't have great data,`` said Morral, a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. ``We don't have a big cadre of researchers working on this.''

Last year, Arnold Ventures and The Joyce Foundation commissioned an analysis to find out how much it would cost the government to fund research and collect data about gun violence. Their conclusion: $600 million over five years.

``We're not talking about $10, and we're not talking about $25 billion; this is a solvable issue,'' said Asheley Van Ness, a director at Arnold Ventures who oversees gun violence research. Other donors besides the federal government could help contribute.

``Philanthropy plays a unique role in American public policy as catalysts for change, often laying a path forward that government can follow,'' Van Ness said.

Responding to a jump in gun homicides in 2020, the Biden administration allowed municipalities to direct funds from the American Rescue Plan last June toward gun violence reduction strategies, including community violence intervention programs.

The administration also partnered with about a dozen foundations to build the capacity of community violence intervention programs in 15 cities, including Los Angeles, Washington and St. Louis. The Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, which supports shooting victims while they're recovering and encourages them and their relatives not to retaliate, is providing training and technical help to the initiative.

Jason Corburn, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has done evaluations for a violence interruption organization, Advance Peace, which started in Richmond, California, and now works in multiple cities across the country.

Advance Peace's programs rely on mentors who are knowledgeable about their communities and often have been involved in and imprisoned for gun crimes. Their personal histories give them credibility with the people most likely to be involved in gun violence. But it also means that local governments can be reluctant to fund their employment.

``That's where I think philanthropy can step in and provide that kind of support,'' Corburn said.

A decade ago, the Joyce Foundation launched a funding collaborative, the Fund for a Safer Future, which pools resources for reducing gun violence. Scott Moyer, president of the Jacob & Valeria Langeloth Foundation and member of the fund's executive committee, says it allows foundations or large donors who are interested but don't have close connections or a deep understanding of gun violence to make an impact.

The fund also donates to organizations that help defend gun regulations and that advocate for policies _ something Moyer said is permissible despite restrictions that bar nonprofits from participating in political lobbying.

The fund also allows donors who wish to be anonymous the chance to participate. Still, he suggested, it's better to speak out against gun violence and visibly support funding solutions.

``Some people see that gun violence issues are too political,`` Moyer said. ``And I would push back on that and just say, `People are dying.'''

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