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Gun Violence Prevention

May 2018

Spring has (finally) sprung as we make final preparations for next month’s 2018 GIH Annual Conference on Health Philanthropy. I’m looking forward to seeing so many of you in Chicago for what promises to be three energizing days of learning, reflection, comradery, and inspiration. This event is a special chance for all of us to take time out from our day-to-day responsibilities, come together to share our experiences, and recommit to our collective mission of health improvement.

The power of collective engagement was on full display last month when the GIH Board of Directors convened in Washington, DC for both an annual retreat and the first board meeting of 2018. Our board retreat is a wonderful opportunity to examine important trends in the field of health philanthropy and consider ways GIH can be most helpful in supporting the field’s evolving needs and priorities. A key topic of conversation at this year’s gathering was the role of health philanthropy and GIH in responding to gun violence.

Gun violence is a public health crisis in the United States with approximately 120,000 Americans killed or injured by guns each year. Gun violence takes many forms including suicides, street violence, domestic violence, mass shootings in public places, and accidental shootings. These deaths and injuries are preventable. But effective prevention will require addressing a number of complex, deeply entrenched societal problems, such as social and economic inequities, inadequate mental health treatment capacity, unjust and counterproductive criminal justice practices, and lax gun safety policies.

I found the conversation at the GIH board retreat heartening. Many of the foundations represented by members of the GIH Board are actively engaged in gun violence prevention through a broad range of both grantmaking and direct activities. Efforts include:

  • research on the causes and effects of gun violence;
  • hospital-based programs to provide trauma-informed care to gun violence victims;
  • public education regarding safe gun storage;
  • strengthening implementation of laws that require domestic abusers to surrender their weapons;
  • voter registration at gun violence protests;
  • amplifying the voices of youth whose lives have been affected by gun violence; and
  • street outreach to high-risk youth.

The discussion also highlighted the value of collaborative funding vehicles, such as the Fund for a Safer Future and the Hope and Heal Fund, to encourage and coordinate philanthropic investments in research and advocacy activities.

Several GIH board members also offered candid perspectives on the challenges their foundations face in addressing gun violence prevention, particularly through activities related to policy advocacy. Funders vary in their enthusiasm for policy advocacy as a tool for change and health foundation boards often see gun safety policies, such as universal background checks, bump stock bans, and limits on types of weapons sold, as particularly controversial and politically divisive topics. This wariness undoubtedly limits the range and scope of health funders’ investments in gun violence prevention.

Over the last decade, GIH has sponsored a variety of programming related to gun violence prevention, including written publications and sessions at our annual conferences. We want to explore if there is more we could be doing to further raise the visibility of this issue and better support the field. As a first step, we are planning to reach out to our Funding Partners to gain a clearer understanding of whether and how health foundations are working to prevent gun violence.

Be on the look-out for an email from me later this week requesting your participation in a brief survey. I promise, this survey will only take a few minutes of your time. Even if your foundation is not currently engaged in gun violence prevention efforts, please respond! Providing input on your foundation’s activities is a quick and easy way to contribute to our collective understanding of the current state of the field on this critically important topic.