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Lessons Learned from the Hope and Heal Fund Listening Tour Across California

Friday, April 21, 2017

To fix a problem, you must first understand it. That’s why, as the new Project Director of the Hope and Heal Fund, I decided to embark on a listening tour to find out how gun violence is affecting Californians and what communities are doing to combat the gun violence epidemic.

Two weeks, 12 cities and 26 meetings later, I returned home in awe of Californians’ strength and determination to make a difference in their communities. And I was inspired and energized by the innovative strategies that are already saving lives across the state. Of the many lessons learned from these conversations, five major takeaways stood out.

Too many Californians are living in fear. Many of the young people I met with have already faced unimaginable loss to the cycle of gun violence in their communities. Some are afraid to go outside, because every trip to the store or to school comes with the risk of being shot. They know too well how easy it is to get a gun, and how quickly a misunderstanding can turn into a tragedy. Others live with the constant threat of domestic violence, the fear that their children might not be safe at school, or the fear that their loved ones could take their own lives. No one should have to live like this. All Californians deserve to feel safe in their homes and their communities.

Gun violence is a local problem with local solutions. From the urban gun violence plaguing Stockton and San Bernardino to the tragic and all too common gun suicides in rural areas like Nevada and Butte Counties, gun violence affects every California community in different ways. Solutions must start at the local level and engage community leaders, police departments, faith groups and trusted influencers on the ground. Along my tour, I learned about how communities like Los Angeles, Oakland and Richmond are taking new, bold and creative actions to fight the scourge of gun violence. They are focused on direct intervention to stop the shooting and get help to those most at-risk. These cutting-edge strategies are already saving lives – but they need support to deepen and expand the impact of their efforts. Hope and Heal Fund can provide much-needed resources and lift up local solutions so that communities across the state can learn from their successes.

California has strong gun laws on the books, but to be effective they must be enforced. California is well-known as a national leader on gun violence prevention. But in order for our laws to keep Californians safe, they must be properly enforced. On my tour, I learned how the City of Los Angeles is enforcing laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. California state law requires anyone subject to a criminal protective order to surrender, sell or transfer their guns within 24 hours of the order. Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has instituted a program to ensure that abusers comply with the law and surrender or sell their guns immediately. This promising program is already keeping women and families safe by disarming those who are dangerous and prohibited from possessing a gun. Hope and Heal Fund can support efforts like this by expanding and replicating what’s working and analyzing which laws require better implementation, awareness and education.

We can’t stop gun violence without addressing suicide. On my listening tour, I visited rural communities where higher rates of gun ownership translate into more gun suicides, leaving families and tight-knit communities heartbroken and searching for answers. We know that a suicide attempt with a gun is far more lethal that all other methods combined, and we must find a way to keep guns away from those who could be a danger to themselves. We must also address the interrelated issues of mental health, depression and isolation. Rural communities in other states are piloting promising approaches to stop the gun suicide epidemic, and Hope and Heal Fund wants to bring the best strategies to California.  By working with doctors and families, we can improve education, help people identify warning signs and prevent gun suicides.

California can lead the way on gun violence prevention. I returned from my listening tour more optimistic than ever that Californians will continue to find innovative and effective strategies to reduce gun violence. Hope and Heal Fund is committed to lifting up these community-based solutions and amplifying successes to ensure that California will continue to be a model of community-based gun violence prevention.

To learn more about our efforts and how you can get involved, please visit www.hopeandhealfund.org.

 

Published by Hope and Heal Fund
Author: Brian Malte, Director of Hope and Heal Fund
April 19, 2017