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Paddling Harder Toward Upstream Solutions for Gun Violence

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In Monterey Park, 11 people were killed. In Half Moon Bay, seven more lost their lives

Two of the latest mass shootings in America took place in California this past week as gunmen opened fire on large crowds. The victims were grandmothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. The victims also were the nine injured in Monterey Park and one in Half Moon Bay who, while they survived, may be scarred for life. The victims also were the again-amazing hospital caregivers whose work demands they press through chaotic conditions filled with fear and danger and who feel deeply and personally the pain of everyone they treat. 

We are all compelled to consider the continued impact of this violence on so many. As is the case whenever a mass shooting takes place — with all its unpredictability and seemingly incomprehensible motivations — questions arise about how to press for a way to minimize the chance of such a horror happening again. 

For perspective, the Monterey Park attack was the 33rd mass shooting in the U.S. in 2023; Half Moon Bay was the 38th. There are more mass shootings than days in the new year so far. 

The states with the strictest gun laws, like California, correlate strongly with the lowest per capita deaths from guns. Yet for comparison, New Hampshire, ranked far lower at 39th for gun law strength, is tied for eighth lowest gun deaths per capita — just one spot behind California. 

Laws are a critically important factor — and unfortunately, no guarantee — in reducing needless deaths; let’s press simultaneously to combine with and advance other strategies to interrupt the pathway to violence. 

Gun violence researchers who compiled detailed life histories on 180 shooters — speaking to spouses, parents, siblings, childhood friends, work colleagues, and teachers — have found several commonalities among those who commit these crimes.  

From Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology at Hamline University: “Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, oftentimes rejection from peers. That turns into a really identifiable crisis point where they’re acting differently. Sometimes they have previous suicide attempts.” 

This information suggests that any approach to reducing gun violence must also consider ways to address the societal shortcomings to which Professor Peterson calls attention. 

The parable of upstream health care comes to mind. Hospitals can treat patients with diabetes in the late state of that disease, or all who are invested in a safer and more just society can commit, collectively, to mitigate the factors leading to diabetes. The same holds true for gun violence. Hospitals can treat gunshot victims, or we can band together with partners in education, law enforcement, mental health, the faith-based community, and others to support work to address the factors that lead to isolation, despair, childhood trauma, and more. 

We can and must — together — help those least hopeful and most at risk of becoming violent find a better chance at a good life, work, meaningful relationships, and all that contributes to better health. This is a long and hard path, and we should pursue all options because, sadly, there is no quick fix. Tragedy will strike again, and the list of victims will grow.