Gun violence has become ubiquitous in the United States; when you mention a recent mass shooting, you need to clarify which one. How does our country allow for this? What kind of a country fails to provide the most basic of all needs – security?
The answer is complex, far exceeding a discussion of rights associated with the Second Amendment. Rather, the core issue is that powerful individuals put profit above lives, recognizing that there is a massive, profitable market for guns in a country where owning them is considered a basic right. As a democracy, we encourage civic participation in elections and the policymaking process. We can make political donations and meet with our elected members. In an increasingly unequal society, wealthier organizations have a greater ability to do both. The gun lobby has recognized this and mastered the art of lobbying against gun reform and bankrolling Republican candidates for Congress. Capturing a party in Congress has stalled most meaningful gun legislation, with few exceptions.
The reality of gun violence in America is not limited to the mass shootings we see in the news. It happens every day in communities across the nation, especially in low-income communities of color. In 2021 alone, the United States experienced more than 21,000 deaths from gun-related homicides. In recent years, we have experienced an increase in violence across urban centers in the United States, including a 30 percent increase in murders in some areas. It is no surprise that communities are frustrated, and an instinctual societal response to rising crime has been to call for more armed policing. Without critical assessment, reactive policies can double down on the current profiling and over-policing of communities that have been in place since the 90s. This approach does not work as a whole. More needs to be done at the policy level than simply funding the police.
This is why we are so proud at the Notre Dame College Democrats to be going to Washington, D.C. this March to learn and train on community violence interruption programs with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker-based and peace-oriented advocacy group. The Friends are asking the 118th Congress to dedicate millions of dollars in federal appropriations funding to community violence interrupters. The Friends argue that violence interrupters succeed because they “de-escalate violence before it happens, reducing the need for police intervention” and diverting the need for militarized, often fatal, police force. These programs–grounded in scholarship and community wisdom–can target the root causes of gun violence and cultivate the environment for “lasting change,” in large part because the programs are almost always endogenous to a community. We will educate ourselves on gun violence and solutions, train in effective policy advocacy, and discuss the issue with members of Congress. As Democrats, we recognize the violence brought about by reckless gun laws and economic oppression. And while we sympathize with the desire to combat rising crime, we urge caution against falling back into discriminatory and wasteful practices that might only take more lives. This is why we support the Friends’ initiative to urge Congress to support community violence interrupters.
Community gun violence interrupters seek to end community cyclical violence. They serve as mediators during conflicts. They “connect at-risk individuals to services such as recreation, job training, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and more to mitigate and prevent violence before it takes place,” addressing the root causes of crime and violence in communities. This contributes to a safer and more just community in the long term. Last year, representatives from Safe Streets of Catholic Charities of Baltimore testified before the Senate, addressing the root causes of violence that create safer communities. Violence interrupters can work in different ways and employ diverse methods, but one thing is always present: community connections.
We at Notre Dame College Democrats applaud these actions, and we are proud to attend the Friends’ Spring Lobby Weekend this upcoming March. South Bend, home to the University of Notre Dame and its students, suffers from endemic gun violence. While recent years have shown promise, South Bend has seen an uptick in gun violence and homicides. Fortunately, the city is home to individuals like Isaac Hunt of Goodwill Industries, who has worked tirelessly to implement community group violence intervention and to lobby for funding at the national level. The City implemented the South Bend Group Violence Intervention program (SBGVI) in 2014, bringing together the South Bend Police Department, the Office of Community Initiatives, S.A.V.E Outreach Team, Goodwill, St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, and more – an example of what a community can do when its constituents work together. We thank the South Bend community for its efforts to face difficult issues and find solutions – and we also have a responsibility to contribute to this work, helping where we can. We hope to continue to learn from individuals like Mr. Hunt, and through a multi-day training with the Friends that will provide us with the resources necessary to develop our organizing skills and substantive knowledge.
Gun violence is not limited to a specific zip code or socioeconomic background; even wealthy communities have faced mass shootings. But the intensity and frequency of violence heavily influences whose lives are taken, and most often, it is low income people of color, especially young Black men. Notre Dame students live in a sort of academic Disney World, and we often are disconnected from South Bend’s problems, even if we cause some of them. But our university produces policy-minded people–consultants, lobbyists, staffers, even members of Congress–annually. I have no doubt that some of our College Democrats will prioritize addressing gun violence as they move forward in their policy careers. My hope is that they remember the community right here that suffers from it, and that they draw on its solutions when creating new practices and policies to thwart gun violence.
Written by Benjamín Rascón Gracia (B.A. ‘24), a Political Science and Global Affairs student at the University of Notre Dame. Gracia also serves as the Political Director for the student group, ND College Democrats.