Last Wednesday, President Barack Obama revealed measures that amount to the most meaningful push to reduce gun violence in the United States in decades. There has been a great deal of conversation about gun violence since the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. The outrage felt in its aftermath has been felt before, yet little has been accomplished to make similar tragic events less likely. This time must be different. President Obama has planted the seed, and funders who want to see policy changes that will reduce gun violence have a critical role to play if we are to overcome entrenched opposition. Here are the five things the philanthropic community needs to do if we expect results:
1. Stay engaged. Reducing gun violence will require a sustained, focused effort over months and years, as political and cultural battles play out at federal and state levels. We will not eliminate gun violence with a single set of policy measures; like other movements, it will require gradual changes in how people think about a range of issues, from conflict to mental health to civil liberties. Our commitment to change cannot wane as it has in the past.
2. Acknowledge the right to bear arms. We must acknowledge the right of law-abiding, mentally competent citizens to own guns. Most gun owners support reasonable efforts to regulate guns. If we work with them as allies, we will greatly increase our chances of bringing a majority of Americans to a consensus around basic measures that protect people without infringing on their rights.
3. Craft a comprehensive solution. An effective approach to reducing gun violence must include more than just restrictions on gun ownership. It must address issues such as improved and affordable mental health services, education about responsible gun ownership, and further research on the underlying causes of gun violence.
4. Build a broad-based, bi-partisan coalition. Gun violence cannot become an issue associated only with liberal Democrats. We must support Republicans and moderate Democrats who promote efforts to reduce gun violence. Their support, and our support of them, will be critical in demonstrating that it is politically safe to support efforts to reduce gun violence. This presents a real opportunity for funders in a variety of fields; we must engage communities that care about this issue but which have not been actively engaged in the past, including the health, youth development, and education communities.
5. Raise more funds to support the effort. The few organizations that have supported efforts to reduce gun violence have been starved for resources. We must generously support established organizations, such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and new organizations, such as One Million Moms for Gun Control. Many groups are working on state efforts, and others are targeting specific communities, such as hunters, sportsmen, teachers, and doctors. Arabella helped set up the Fund for a Safer Future, a collaborative effort among philanthropists that has provided over $14 million in grants to a range of efforts around the country.
Philanthropists are uniquely positioned to support these efforts because we can mount sustained pressure and encourage participation from members of the broad range of communities with which we work. As Washington and the rest of the country begin the battle on gun violence, we will continue to write on this blog about issues that arise and how funders can participate most effectively. For now, though, if we follow these five steps, we may not prevent gun related tragedies from ever again occurring, but we will begin to reduce the number and frequency of such horrific events. That is a goal very much worth achieving.
Bruce Boyd joined Arabella Advisors as a principal and managing director in 2007 after spending 20 years building and leading for-profit and nonprofit ventures. Bruce oversees the work in the firm’s Chicago office and has led a range of engagements for Arabella’s foundation, individual and family, and corporate clients.