This upcoming February 14 marks five years since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And although we’re only in the second month of 2023, the United States has already experienced more than 40 mass shootings — including in Monterey Park, California, Half Moon Bay, California, and Lakeland, Florida. These senseless tragedies are a disturbing reminder of how gun violence continues to threaten the lives of all Americans.
In these devastating moments, it is imperative that we remain authentic when communicating about gun violence. It remains particularly important to recognize how this crisis disproportionately affects Black communities and other communities of color across the country.
Fenton’s gun safety task force, based on our extensive work with a multitude of gun safety and violence prevention clients, has developed the following comprehensive messaging guide to ensure elected officials, community and nonprofit leaders, public relations experts, and others are able to communicate on the issue of gun violence genuinely, factually and respectfully.
Crafting Values-Driven Messaging
All messaging on gun violence, regardless of whether it is for a rapid response moment or to acknowledge a previous tragedy, should be structured around four key components:
- The problem;
- The solution;
Doing so will allow your audience to feel included in a shared goal and in mutual agreement with thousands of others in the gun safety space. It also pinpoints the issue(s) they’re up against, learn of the solution to said issue — whether it involves specific policies or communal actions — and learn what they can do to help see the solutions across the finish line.
Rapid Response Statements on Mass Shootings
When developing statements to address tragic events like mass shootings, Fenton’s gun safety task force recommends the following:
- Use trusted news sources: Wait for a trusted news outlet and source to confirm the event before issuing a statement.
- Cite only confirmed specifics regarding the tragedy: Only report what first responders have confirmed to reporters and news outlets, such as the location, number of those injured, and number of casualties.
- Offer sincere condolences and sentiments: Use this opportunity to express genuine and authentic sentiments around the tragedy. Audiences have grown weary of simplified and overused language, such as “our thoughts are with…” or “thoughts and prayers to…” Use this moment to speak to the anger, sadness and despair felt in the moment.
- Address the communities affected: Be sure to address the communities and individuals who have been directly affected by the shooting. Some mass shootings tend to be driven by domestic violence and/or bigotry and prejudice. If an event is known to be driven by such ideals and behavior, be sure to name them as part of the problem. But only do so once the motive has been confirmed by first responders, law enforcement and trusted news sources. Do not make assumptions based on hearsay.
- Do not name the shooter: Use this moment to focus on the communities affected and to be mindful of how it may impact other survivors in the moment.
- Acknowledge everyday cases of gun violence: Mass shootings make up a relatively small percentage of the daily cases of gun violence taking place in the country. Encourage your audience to remember and take into account that there are thousands of gun violence victims and survivors whom we’ll never know because their cases did not grab national headlines.
- Remain consistent: Unfortunately, mass shootings are an all too regular occurrence, and it can be difficult to stay up-to-date and monitor when an incident warrants a statement from your organization. However, it’s important to remain consistent by speaking to the breadth of the gun violence crisis. For example, if there are multiple mass shootings in a month and you only mention one particular instance, it’s important to follow through by at least acknowledging additional instances and everyday cases of gun violence.
- Learn from and follow the lead of trusted partners: There are numerous organizations dedicated to addressing gun violence; instead of issuing a statement that puts you or your work at the center, it is important to follow the lead of these experts or partners. Your statement can be used to uplift local efforts or resources shared by other organizations leading gun violence prevention work.
The Reality of Daily Gun Violence
Gun violence is a multifaceted issue that affects people from all walks of life. Here are some statistics to keep in mind:
- 43,000 people in the United States die from gun violence every year – that is more than 100 people per day. (Giffords and Everytown)
- Gun deaths disproportionately impact historically targeted communities in the United States, namely Black and Brown communities. In fact, Black men make up more than 52 percent of all gun homicide victims while making up less than six percent of the population. (Giffords)
- Black men face the highest risk of police violence. Unarmed Black Americans are five times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts. (Giffords)
- Gun suicides account for six out of 10 gun deaths in the United States. (Everytown)
- Access to a gun in the home increases the risk of death by suicide by 300 percent. (Brady)
- Firearms remain the leading cause of death for children and teens, surpassing car accidents.
- Black and Brown children are more likely to be shot and killed by others, while white children are more likely to harm themselves. (New York Times)
- Nearly one million women in the United States have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner. Women in our country are 21 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries. (Everytown and Giffords)
For a handy guide on statistics about gun violence, download our Gun Safety Task Force Sheet.
To learn more about Fenton’s gun safety task force and possible ways we can support your work on this issue, please contact Valerie Jean-Charles at email@example.com