Many Paths to Progress: A Funder-Backed Study Sets its Sights on Reducing Gun Violence

Sometimes it seems as if mass shootings—at schools, offices and even churches—have become the “new normal” in American life. What seemed outrageous in 1999, the year of the tragic shootings of 12 students and 1 teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado, has become increasingly commonplace today. There was the massacre of more than 50 concertgoers at an outdoor venue in Las Vegas in 2017, and the fatal shootings of more than a dozen students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida only a few months later, in February 2018.

Mass shootings such as these, however, comprise only one dimension of the overall problem of gun violence, something emphasized in a new report from a national organization of law enforcement leaders and supported by a leading funder. In June 2018, only a few months after the tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, more than 150 police chiefs, sheriffs, federal officials, researchers and funders met in Washington, D.C., for a conference on reducing gun violence. Out of that conference came a new report from the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF): “Reducing Gun Violence: What Works and What Can Be Done Now.” The study is part of PERF’s Critical Issues in Policing series and received support from the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

Motorola Solutions Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Motorola Solutions. In 2018, the funder awarded an estimated $9 million in grants in the areas of education, public safety and disaster relief. PERF, an independent research organization that focuses on best practices in law enforcement, was a 2018 grant recipient.

Although mass shootings garner the most media attention, the PERF report pointed out that such shootings represent only one strand of a much larger problem. The report identified four categories of gun violence: suicides by firearm (the category with the largest number of gun fatalities), homicides committed with firearms, domestic violence-related shootings, and mass shootings. The report went on to state that because categories of gun violence have different causes, victims, and other characteristics, the appropriate responses will vary. For example, responses to criminal homicides with firearms will differ from measures aimed at reducing mass shootings.

While the gun debate often fixates on the role of Congress and the federal government, the PERF report argues that a wide range of actors can play a role in reducing gun violence. That same hopeful logic is guiding a growing range of funder-backed activities.

We reported last year on a funder collaborative, the Fund for a Safer Future, and its efforts to find new ways of engagement following the Parkland, Florida, shooting. Grantmakers involved in this collaborative include the Joyce Foundation, the Kendeda Fund, the David Bohnett Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and others.

Related: Turning Point? Philanthropy vs. Gun Violence After the Parkland Shooting

We’ve also reported on the Hope and Heal Fund, a California funder collaborative that focuses on community-based strategies to prevent gun violence. The fund is backing interventions that target gun violence in high-crime communities, treating such violence as a public health issue (including by addressing gun suicides), and better enforcing existing laws, such as those that restrict access to guns by perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Meanwhile, in Chicago and other cities, we’ve seen funders back groups like the Peacemaker Partnership and the Community Justice Reform Coalition, which are working with local stakeholders to reduce the cycle of gun violence—much of it gang-related—that plagues high-poverty neighborhoods in many urban centers.

The recommendations outlined by the PERF report include some of the same strategies advanced by philanthropy-backed organizations and initiatives. For example, the report calls for enacting and enforcing laws requiring immediate surrender of firearms upon conviction of domestic violence and disqualifying offenses under federal law. And it calls for expanding research on gun violence.

Not surprisingly, given PERF’s mission, many of the recommendations focus on more effective law enforcement practices. The report recommends ensuring certain punishment for illegal possession of a firearm and it calls for expanding the use of ballistics in all shootings, including nonfatal ones. Ballistics evidence can generate new investigative leads. Shell casings at a nonfatal shooting are often evidence connecting to a fatal shooting committed in the past. The report also echoes familiar calls for limiting the availability of high-powered firearms. Suggested actions include limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines and banning so-called “bump stocks.”

Overall, there are recommendations for state and federal lawmakers, law enforcement officials, other government agencies, and even individual gun owners. Translating some of these recommendations into meaningful action will be easier said than done. The National Rifle Association remains a powerful lobbying force in the nation’s capital, along with many state capitals, and the Trump administration has displayed little interest in taking actions perceived as infringing upon Second Amendment rights.

While philanthropy has limited power for directly attacking the political obstacles to reducing gun violence, at least one leading mega-giver—Michael Bloomberg—is investing heavily in influencing congressional races through his 501(c)(4) organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that also has a 501(c)(3) arm and which has received funds from other donors, as well, including Eli Broad, who gave it $1 million after the Parkland shooting. “No one should have to endure what the students and families of Parkland suffered last week, or what too many Americans suffer daily from our country’s gun violence epidemic. This must stop," Broad said in a statement at the time.