“What Can I Do?”: Actionable Steps You Can Take Today to Prevent Gun Violence

This week’s blog is written by Dion McGill, SCY Communications and Community Outreach Manager with contributions from Kirstin Grabski, SCY Operations Coordinator and Cassandra Otoo, SCY Program Coordinator

As a person who has worked in violence prevention for a number of years, in the wake of tragedy, there is one thing that I know will happen with absolute certainty; the torrent of emails and phone calls, followed by an inextricable string of meetings, with a multitude of people asking the same question: 

“What can I do?” 

Tragedy, particularly of the type like we witnessed this past Fourth of July in Highland Park, IL leaves many of us feeling powerless, along with a torrent of other emotions. First and foremost, take care of yourself and your loved ones. Take time to process, to cry, to vent…we all deal with these events differently but give yourself what you need. Additionally, it can be difficult to talk with youth about these events. Here is a blog from our colleagues at The Center for Childhood Resilience on talking to your children about these numerous tragedies we’ve been seeing in the news.  

But what next? Well, while this is not an exhaustive discussion of everything you could possibly do, here are a few thoughts I and my colleagues here at Strengthening Chicago’s Youth had that I wanted to share to begin to answer this question that we often find ourselves faced with:  

Get Angry 

This came up several times in our discussion on the events of a week ago. It is natural to be angry. And yes, I find myself angry at the repeating cycle of headlines of shootings both here in Chicago and surrounding areas, as well as abroad. However, what is important is to not dwell too long on those emotions, and most certainly not to let that anger consume us. We must take that anger and allow it to motivate us to take steps towards a solution. For each of us, that will look different, but here are some ideas of things that you can do, some focused more internally, and some focused more towards interacting with friends, families, neighbors and elected officials as we work towards solutions to this ongoing gun violence epidemic.  

Talk About It 

It’s imperative that we talk about these events when they happen. We need to be clear about the facts of these events, and what could have potentially stopped the event from happening. In the case of the Highland Park shooter, there has been lots of reporting and discussion on how the shooter acquired his weapons, and that he was issued a Firearm Owners Identification Card despite previous interactions with law enforcement, that included him threatening to “kill everyone” and having his knives and swords collection being confiscated. Related to that event, Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart said that “We must vastly increase awareness and education about this red flag law called the Illinois Firearm Restraining Order.” 

This red flag law, often referred in Illinois as FRO, but often referred to nationally as extreme risk protection order law, is a tool that families of family members showing violent tendencies can use to have weapons temporarily removed.  

Understand the Full Scope of the Problem 

Gun violence is the leading cause of death among U.S. children and teens. Additionally, most U.S. gun deaths are suicides. Also, guns play a significant role in domestic violence and intimate partner violence.  When we talk about gun violence, we must remember that the type of violence we see on the news, events like what occurred in Highland Park, are only a portion of the ongoing epidemic. When we talk about decreasing gun violence, we must talk about decreasing it in all forms.  


Something we can all do is research, not only to understand what the current laws are, but how laws have changed over time and how those changes are impacting not only your community, but other communities as well. If “firearm restraining orders” are a term that you’re just hearing for the first time, I encourage you to visit two resources: The Trace and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  

The Trace is an American nonprofit journalism outlet devoted to gun-related news in the United States. The Trace is an excellent source for ongoing news not simply about gun crime and law, but they often take the time that other journalism outlets do not to dig deeper and address the nuances of these issues. As a gun violence prevention professional, I refer to The Trace often.  

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, named after gun violence survivor and former United States Representative Gabby Giffords, is an excellent place to begin and continue your research on gun law, policies and programs. In addition to browsing state gun laws, you can find amicus briefs on cases challenging lifesaving gun laws, in-depth reports, white papers and publications on varying aspects of the gun violence epidemic, as well as the Giffords Center Gun Law Trendwatch, which analyzes firearm legislation in all 50 states.  

Debunk the Myths and Let Go of the Notion “This would never happen here.” 

This is one of those things that people get uneasy talking about.  However, we have to address all of the elephants in the room, and the notions and myths around gun violence we have to discuss and deconstruct.  Namely, the idea that gun violence is mainly an “urban” problem, only happens in certain communities, or “couldn’t possibly ever happen here.”  

Though I haven’t spent much time in Highland Park, I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time in Highland Park. As one woman described on the news following the tragedy this past Monday, “Highland Park is kind of like America’s Main Street.” Highland Park has been the backdrop of a slew of iconic films, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Weird Science and Sixteen Candles.  Additionally, Highland Park is the home of the beautiful Ravinia Park, home of the Ravinia Festival. As some have commented over the past few days, “I never imagined something like this could happen here.” Unfortunately, it can happen in your community. If not in a school, or in a grocery store, or in a place of worship, it could happen in a home.  

Also, some of the beliefs about gun violence are actually common misconceptions. We have to make sure that we all know fact from fiction when we are discussing gun violence.  

Understand the Intersection of Gun Violence and Race 

Herein lies another uncomfortable conversation, but one that came up amongst SCY staff. Black and Brown communities are without a doubt disproportionately affected by gun violence, and the data bears that statement out. However, that is not where the intersection ends. For example, when we see events like the shooting in Highland Park, the onus for the shooting is often squarely placed on the shooter, usually followed by the discussion on the mental health condition of the shooter.  When a shooting happens in a community like the one I live in, Englewood, the onus for the shooting can vary widely; sometimes on the shooter, often on assumed gang affiliations, and often that responsibility is pushed off onto the community, about discussions of parenting and lack of positive role models.  

Get Involved 

Most importantly, you must get involved. As public health professionals, we often encourage the public to start by making sure that their own home is safe for their entire family, this includes making sure that firearms that are inside of the home are properly and safely secured, and not accessible to children inside the home. When I worked with youth as part of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence’s Activist Institute program, I would often ask groups, “How many of you know exactly where your parents keep their firearms?” Often a good percentage of the room would raise their hands. I would follow that question with “How many of you could access those firearms easily if you wanted to, meaning they are not locked up in a safe, case, or locked box?” Often, many of the same hands would go up again. Please, do not assume that your children do not know where your firearms are kept, whether it’s under your mattress, or on the top shelf of your closet. In collaboration with our colleagues at The Teamwork to Reduce Infant, Child, and Adolescent Mortality (TRICAM) program, we’ve helped address this issue with our Gun Safety Toolkit, which gives comprehensive information on safe storage either inside or outside of the home.  

Additionally, when your children go to the houses of friends and family, you should know whether that home contains firearms, and that those weapons are stored safely. Some people think these types of questions are intrusive, but it is imperative that you know that your children will be safe while at a friend or family member’s house for play. Programs like ASK by Brady United and Be Smart for Kids by Everytown for Gun Safety can help make these conversations much easier. 

Beyond that, there are tons of things you can do to get involved in the gun violence prevention movement.  Start with signing up for newsletters for your local gun violence prevention (GVP) organizations, like One Aim Illinois and the Our One Job Coalition. Also, please be sure to follow SCY on social media including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We will be sharing even more opportunities to get involved in decreasing gun violence in Chicago and Illinois.  



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