Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Stop Gun Violence!

Dean Trulear


October 13, 2006

Gun violence in a Pennsylvania Amish school and a Wisconsin public school grabbed the nation's attention in recent weeks. We were stunned and saddened by the unlikely tragedies.

Yet for many residents of many urban communities, such violence and carnage are a fact of daily life. Innocent children die almost every day in crossfire, drive-by, and retaliatory shootings. Yet there is very little public outrage or sadness expressed outside those communities. Why so?

Is it possible that the shooting of young Amish girls touched us because of the innocence and pacifism of the community? Did the killing of the Wisconsin principal draw more attention because any of our children could have been in that school? Is the slight increase in public interest in more programs and policies to curb gun violence due to a growing concern about our own protection? Might we have worked harder to stem urban violence in the past if we had a greater sense of the common good and an ability to think of the protection of others and not only of ourselves?

One of the interesting things about the recent suburban and rural spikes in violence is that they are neither drug nor gang related. What we are actually witnessing in urban, suburban, and rural areas is an increase in gun violence as a means of settling disputes, whether interpersonal or familial, whether with your past or with your principal. Contemporary culture contains an uneasy support for the violent resolution of conflict, whether the feud is between individuals, families, or little league parents. Human dignity is supposedly won through victory in these conflicts, whatever the result.

The recognition of this cultural component of violent behavior has been a keystone for persons and communities that take an active role in reducing violence in their neighborhoods. Beginning with the efforts of Boston law-enforcement and community agencies in the 1990s, many areas have sought not simply to step up police efforts to deter violence, but also to provide alternatives to violent behavior through building community relationships and investing in recreational and educational programs.

In Illinois, the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention took the approach a step further by treating gun violence as a public health issue. This meant using "public education to change attitudes and behavior towards violence" in addition to "using individuals recruited from [the] target population [and] community involvement to change norms." Their program, CeaseFire, began in the late 1990s, building partnerships between law-enforcement and neighborhood (including faith-based) organizations to develop strategies that would not only reduce gun violence but also change community culture that glorifies violence and offer alternative means of conflict resolution. In the first year of their pilot demonstration on Police Beat 1115 in Chicago, shootings were down 67 percent. As the program has spread to other neighborhoods and cities, shootings have been reduced from 40 to 60 percent.

The CeaseFire program recognizes that for violence to be reduced, our thinking about violence must change. And as residents of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are discovering, those attitudes are not restricted to inner-city neighborhoods. Investment in these programs is a wise use of private and public dollars.

Remember this at election time. Maybe our growing self-interest in figuring out how to protect ourselves from gun violence can be a catalyst for thinking and acting more energetically to secure the common good, including the protection of those whose cultures are not like ours and those whose suffering from gun violence we have long ignored.

—Harold Dean Trulear, Professor of Practical Theology
    Howard University Divinity School


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”