• January 31, 2015

Philanthropy Must Challenge the Idea That Gun Violence Can’t Be Stopped

Tucson Memorial Photo

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Messages and candles are placed at a makeshift memorial for those killed and wounded during an attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.

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Messages and candles are placed at a makeshift memorial for those killed and wounded during an attack on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona.

We see this latest tragedy and ask, How could this happen? How could it not happen, when we systematically make it easier for angry and troubled people to get ever-more-powerful guns, and harder for the police and public-health people to stop the mayhem?

Those words appeared in The Chronicle of Philanthropy 2007, in the days after the Virginia Tech massacre. Three and a half years later, our nation’s gun laws have gotten weaker, the gun lobby has become emboldened, and the toll of deaths and injuries caused by firearms has grown. With few exceptions, our leaders continue to sit on the sidelines.

Now, once again, we mourn the victims of a senseless shooting.

Over the past decade, I have watched gun-violence prevention fade from philanthropy’s agenda. Saturday’s events offer a startling example of what that trend means for all of us who work in philanthropy.

The Tucson shooting makes clear that gun violence threatens not just public health and public safety; it threatens the core of our democracy. Our democratic system depends on an open discussion of ideas, even when the parties to that discussion disagree. Threats of violence, and the easy opportunity to act on those threats, create a chilling effect on public discourse that undermines the democratic process, deters people from running for public office, and ultimately imperils our progress on any public issue.

I agree with President Obama that we must work to return civility to our public discourse. And as the president said in his memorial speech in Tucson, “We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.”

Let’s start by challenging the assumption that there’s no way to stop gun violence. Gun violence in the United States is not a constitutionally derived inevitability. Gun violence, whether directed at a member of Congress or a child walking home from school, happens because our elected officials have made a series of deliberate policy judgments that guns should be easy to buy, sell, and carry by nearly anyone, anywhere, any time.

In this case, those policy judgments enabled the suspected Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, to buy a Glock semi-automatic pistol and 33-round ammunition magazine, conceal that gun and ammunition as he traveled to a public event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and fire more than 30 rounds before pausing to reload.

If it’s not obvious that gun policy matters, consider that Mr. Loughner’s high-capacity ammunition magazine was illegal in the United States until 2004, when Congress allowed the ban to expire. As The Wall Street Journal explains, the federal assault-weapons ban “barred dealers from selling magazines holding more than 10 rounds.” A federal law-enforcement official said Mr. Loughner used a magazine with about three times that capacity. “Without that extended magazine, you would not have seen the body count as high,” the official said.

What’s more, until just last year, Mr. Loughner would have at least been required to apply for and obtain a permit from the Arizona Department of Public Safety before he could legally have carried a gun, but the Arizona legislature abolished the permit requirement. So Mr. Loughner was easily able to buy and carry a gun despite his history of mental-health issues, drug use, suspension from school, and rejection by the U.S. Army.

Arizona is only the latest example of the trend toward relaxed rules on carrying guns in public places. Laws in several states now allow concealed guns in bars, places of worship, and public parks.

Sadly, past experience tells us that eventually the shock of last weekend’s events will fade from the headlines. But what will not fade is the relentless toll of gun violence: Every day in the United States, an average of 34 people are murdered with guns. Nearly 50 more are killed in gun accidents and suicides. And 183 more are injured by gunfire. Every day.

In philanthropy we have the ability to gather great minds to tackle tough issues by harnessing our resources, setting measurable goals, and carrying out a sound strategy. I have seen the nonprofit world’s great achievements in areas as diverse as scientific research, early-childhood education, public health, and human rights.

It is time for us to bring our collective leadership together to push for reasonable public policies that protect our citizens and our democracy from the scourge of gun violence.

Each one of us must challenge the assumption, best stated in 2009 by Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, that “the guys with the guns make the rules.” If this is true, it is a direct threat to our democratic process.

Foundations can play an important role in turning this issue around. Our resources can help reduce the financial imbalance that allows one side to overwhelm the debate on even the most modest policy changes. Putting our money into research on ways to prevent gun violence, analysis of the public policies that make the most difference, and advocacy efforts that mobilize the public can help ensure a balanced discussion about how our society should handle guns.

We’re ready to do our part and share our expertise after many years of focusing on this issue in our own grant making. Now we need more hands to take on this issue—and to promote the kind of democracy that inspired Representative Giffords to invite her constituents to share their concerns at her “Congress on Your Corner” event.

Ellen S. Alberding is president of the Joyce Foundation, in Chicago.


1. harlanr - January 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm

"Criminals obey 'gun control' laws in the same manner politicians follow their oaths of office." -- Anonymous

2. rayu42 - January 14, 2011 at 12:55 pm

One does not need an AK 47 or a Glock to hunt wildlife.
What can ordinary citizen do to amend the second amendment?

3. dat1310 - January 14, 2011 at 01:02 pm

Ellen Alberding is right on every count. Kudos to the Joyce Foundation with the hope that other philanthropists will follow its lead to help make our country safe!

4. cstabler - January 14, 2011 at 02:30 pm


5. vwhenry - January 14, 2011 at 02:46 pm

An AK-47 is just a .30 caliber rifle and a Glock is just a brand name like Ford or BMW, and I'm pretty sure you can hunt with either if you so choose instead of the venerable Winchester. There are actually states that have hand gun hunting seasons, so if you like the safety features and accuracy of the Glock, or S&W or Ruger or Colt, there's no reason you can't use such a tool. Banning handguns or large magazines is a knee jerk reaction that affects only those people willing to follow the law.

Why don't more people insist on disclosure of mental health risks? When I complete a gun registration form, I know my criminal records are thoroughly checked, but depending on buyers to truthfully check the box that says they don't have a mental illness is just depending on too much honesty without some central registry to assure compliance. Honestly, why aren't more people outraged that the parents ignored the problem or that the community college administration dropped the ball to insist on court mandated treatment?

While we're on the subject of banning things, why aren't people more insistent on drunk drivers being incarcerated with the key thrown away instead of treating DUI like some social disease that we all choose to ignore? I bet more people were killed or injured last week by drunk drivers.

6. milquetoast - January 14, 2011 at 03:35 pm

The Joyce Foundation shilling for gun control? There's a shocker.


That's pretty much all they do. They're not exploiting the deaths of innocents for their own fund-raising agenda, are they? Nah, they wouldn't be that cynical, would they?

Arizona, by not requiring government permission to keep and bear arms, supposedly has a Wild West gun culture. (Right, just like that other Wild West hotbed of violence, Vermont.)

The premise is that, if only carrying a concealed weapon had been against the law, Jared Loughner would have sat on his bed and said, "Darn! Now how am I going to get my gun to that parking lot so I can murder those people who have been inflicting mind control with grammar on my new currency. I'm stumped; guess I'll just stay home and watch Oprah."

Who's delusional?

To summarize all the butter-wouldn't-melt-in-their-mouths appeals for "civil discourse" I have heard so far: “I pledge not to engage in personal attacks and inflammatory language, and I call on my racist, xenophobic, cattle-rustling, puppy-kicking, right-wing extremist gun nut political opponents to knock off the hate speech, and be civil like me.”

7. georgeh800 - January 14, 2011 at 05:33 pm

It would seem phianthropic efforts could be better directed at helping those in need - let George Soros, other anti-gun organizations and the NRA and other 2nd Amendment Rights suppoters duke it out - guns don't kill nearly as many as does malnutrition, malaria and other preventable illnesses.

8. madelyn - January 14, 2011 at 05:34 pm

I agree with everything that Ellen had to say about gun control and gun violence. I applaud her in standing up for this important issue. What has happened in our country when a mentally deranged person can buy a gun and rounds of ammunition - and everyone seems to think this is okay? Do our legislators and people in higher office have to suffer the loss of one of their family members before they realize that guns in fact do kill people? Had Loughner had just his fists, perhaps one person would have been hurt - but no one would have been killed. I hope the philanthropic community will start to pay serious attention to this. Unfortunately the collective American memory is very short. We are "shocked and appalled" for a few minutes and then go on with our lives until we are faced again with another round of senseless killings. What will it take? The second amendment was written during a time when people needed the right to bear arms. We've progressed way past that point I would think. Where is common sense when it is needed? That's all this situation requires - simple common sense. And I fear it is lacking in this country. If we ever get past the gun issue, I would hope that someone could start to tackle the issue of mental illness as well.

9. milquetoast - January 14, 2011 at 06:39 pm

"Had Loughner had just his fists..."
What? Really? Fists?
Loughner parked his car adjacent to the gathering, and got out with his gun. Suppose (assuming this Magical Thinking that seems to be prevalent) he had not been able to get a gun. What if he had driven his car into the crowd? Who could have tackled him to stop him before he killed everybody there? A few years ago in California, a fellow drove his car into a crowd and killed 9 (including a 3-year-old) and injured 54 (14 critically, including 2 infants). That's a lot more damage than what Loughner did with his gun. McVeigh killed 168 and injured 450 (including many children), using plant fertilizer. Julio Gonzalez killed 87 at the Happy Land Social Club, with a jar of gasoline and a match. This may surprise some people: handguns are among the least deadly weapons that maniacs can use. Laws often have unintended consequences. Is it really wise to pass laws that push psychopaths toward more deadly weapons? In the real world, psychopaths intent on murder don't default to fists.
Fists? Really?

10. help501c3 - January 15, 2011 at 08:18 pm

Nonprofits, philanthropy, and elected officials need to begin asking themselves, "what is the root cause of the problem?" Guns, and the lack of gun control are not the root cause, just like the lack of money is not the cause of poor public education systems.

The need for improved mental health care and the early identification of mental illness, and the lack of ongoing treatment and monitoring of mental illness was the root cause of the Tucson slaughter.

Kevin Feldman

11. milquetoast - January 16, 2011 at 01:01 am

If (via Magical Thinking) Loughner had been unable to get a gun, he would not have shot anybody.

However, that is not to say he would not have hurt anybody. He was determined to cause mayhem; the instrumentality didn't matter.

"Priscilla Ford, who suffered from a variety of mental illnesses and who was the lone woman on Nevada's death row for more than twenty years, died of apparent complications from emphysema on January 29, 2005. .... Ford was sentenced to death row after she was convicted of killing 6 people and injuring 23 others by driving her car down a crowded Reno sidewalk on Thanksgiving Day 1980. Following the crime, a judge ordered that she receive mental health treatment so she would be competent to stand trial. Ford had been a gifted teacher until her mental illness emerged around 1970. During her 6-month trial, it was revealed that Ford had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with violent tendencies, but she would not stay on the medication that controlled her condition. She had been treated and released from seven different hospitals prior to her crime. Ford told people she was Christ, that she was the reincarnation of the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that she had God-like powers and would smite her enemies."

On the bright side, she didn't use a gun.

The Joyce Foundation is cynically exploiting a tragedy to raise money for the Brady gun-banning group. As noted above, they are diverting funds that could be used better by legitimate charities, who work to relieve people suffering from malnutrion, malaria -- and mental illness. Shame on them.

12. osarahinton - January 18, 2011 at 06:44 am

Great improvement, great keynotes ! -"Criminals obey 'gun control' laws in the same manner politicians follow their oaths of office."
Best regards
perdre du poids

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