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Suggestions for Covering Holiday Weekend Gun Violence in Context

July 2, 2021

Lax gun laws and lingering consequences of the pandemic continue to contribute to gun violence, which remains at higher levels nationally than prior to COVID-19. Going into the long July 4 weekend, many cities are bracing themselves for a potentially violent weekend. 

As your newsroom prepares for weekend coverage, below are a few suggestions:

1) Cover the options cities have for fighting gun violence – including spending federal COVID relief to fund evidence-informed community violence intervention programs.

The White House has specifically identified community violence intervention as an eligible use of the $350 billion of state and local aid being made available through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), and already, cities are taking action.

Devoting ARP funds to intervention efforts is just one of a number of tools cities have for addressing gun violence. Many others are described in CityGRIP, an interactive online platform that draws on years of interviews with city officials about their uses of data in local public safety efforts, as well as extensive research on the effectiveness of a wide range of community-based gun violence prevention strategies.

2) Include context about the policies state lawmakers are considering or passed during the 2021 legislative session that may impact gun violence. 

While many state legislatures heeded the call for action to prevent gun violence and passed common-sense gun safety measures, others doubled down on the gun lobby’s “guns-everywhere” agenda and weakened public safety laws, passing dangerous gun bills that have been shown to lead to more gun deaths. Many of those laws go into effect this month, more information available here.

3) Include context on the comprehensive strategy recently announced by the Biden-Harris administration to combat gun violence.

The Biden-Harris administration recently outlined a new five-part strategy to reduce gun violence that includes the creation of new strike forces to take on gun trafficking, new efforts to hold rogue gun dealers accountable for violating federal laws, investments in community violence intervention programs, and more. The strategy convenes a new Community Violence Intervention Collaborative of 15 jurisdictions that are committing to use a portion of their American Rescue Plan funding (or other funding) to increase investment in community violence intervention infrastructure, helping prepare cities for potential rises in violence over the summer. 

4) Report on the ways the gun lobby and its allies in Congress and statehouses have undermined law enforcement efforts to combat gun violence.

Gun lobby allies on the state and federal level have worked for years to undermine the law enforcement responsible for enforcing our gun laws, block legislation that would provide them with the tools they need, and pass unpopular policies that make our communities less safe. This year, several states passed permitless carry bills despite opposition from law enforcement and laws explicitly prohibiting and punishing law enforcement for helping to enforce federal gun laws. Gun lobby allies in Congress have proposed eliminating the federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing our gun laws and completely dismantling our federal background check system.

5) Include ATF data on the sources of crime guns recovered in your state.

As cities in states with good gun laws grapple with increasing gun violence, be sure to note the influx of firearms from states with lax laws as a key driver. Use The Crime Gun Dashboard, released in May, to easily explore data on crime guns flowing into and out of every state collected by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The data makes clear gun traffickers seek out states without background check laws as sources of firearms, underscoring the need for the Senate to pass background check legislation. 

6) Cover the ongoing conversations in the U.S. Senate about background check legislation – and ask senators where they stand.

While federal law requires background checks for all gun sales by licensed gun dealers, it does not require background checks for sales by unlicensed dealers, even in instances when they sell guns to strangers they met online or at gun shows. But after years of inaction, bipartisan conversations continue in the U.S. Senate on background checks legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has committed to putting gun safety legislation on the Senate floor.

7) Report on the ways the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate key drivers of gun violence as infections decline.

Lack of access to income, suitable housing, and other critical life needs are key drivers of gun violence, and the pandemic has caused widespread economic upheaval while disrupting the delivery of social services. States and cities are just now getting many of these critical supports back on line. Many local gun violence intervention programs — which have seen success in preventing daily gun violence in cities — also experienced unprecedented challenges in their work, including strained funding, social distancing measures, and an expansion of their mission to include preventing the spread of the virus.

Together, these are among the compounding factors that may explain the upward trend.

8) Note the ways that the increase in gun sales over the past year has strained the background check system.

In addition, while the background check system worked as intended and denied a record number of prohibited purchasers during the pandemic, the loopholes in the law have been exacerbated and accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic due to an unprecedented surge in people seeking firearms, whether from a gun dealer, a stranger online, or companies selling unregulated, do-it-yourself firearm kits.

9) Fact-check efforts to blame increases in gun violence on protests or criminal justice reform.

Attempts to shift blame for increasing gun violence to Black Lives Matter protests or criminal justice reform measures are based in politics, not facts. In reality, many cities saw increases in gun violence in 2020 well before the protests started following the death of George Floyd. Additionally, many cities that have not implemented recent criminal justice reforms also experienced increased rates of violence over the past year, with murder rates increasing in 8 out of 10 larger cities. As explained above, increases in violence are likely due to a mix of factors, including economic upheaval, interruption of social services and a disruption of violence intervention work.

10) Center the work of community-led gun violence intervention programs, which have successfully reduced violence by implementing data-informed, locally led strategies.

Community-based violence intervention programs work with individuals at the highest risk of shooting or being shot and help reduce violence through targeted interventions — including job readiness and workforce development programming — in their communities and in hospitals. These programs are on the frontlines in the cities with the highest gun violence and communities experiencing disproportionate impact. Be sure to note their current efforts and engage them for insight. Please feel free to reach out for suggestions of local violence intervention programs.

11) Seek out the perspective of gun violence survivors — and use a trauma-informed approach to interviews.

A report released by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and the Black Mental Health Alliance detailed community trauma in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by gun violence and laid out recommendations for addressing it. In light of the kind of individual, family and community-level trauma discussed in the report, consider taking a trauma-informed approach to conversations with survivors of gun violence. 

When seeking out the perspectives of gun violence survivors, keep in mind that survivors have experienced traumatic events and recounting those events can be challenging. Read more from Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma on ways to sensitively interview victims of tragedies here and here.

You can also share resources for gun violence survivors so survivors know where to go to get help.

If you're a member of the media, please send inquiries to [email protected]