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Suggestions for Covering Weekend Gun Violence in Context

May 27, 2021

Even before the pandemic, the first warm-weather long weekend of the year was often a deadly one when it came to gun violence in U.S. cities. And with violence remaining at higher levels nationally than it was at prior to COVID-19, many cities are bracing themselves for what this coming weekend may bring.

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

  1. Include ATF data on the sources of crime guns recovered in your state.
  2. Cover the ongoing conversations in the U.S. Senate about background checks 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Report on the ways the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated key drivers of gun violence.
    • 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. 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.
  5. Note the ways that the increase in gun sales over the past year has strained the background checks system.
    • 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. Please feel free to reach out for suggestions of local violence intervention programs to seek insight from.
  8. Seek out the perspective of gun violence survivors – and use a trauma-informed approach to interviews.
    • In a report released today, 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 them. 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]