Alexandra Walker

Nonprofits Driving Gun Control Movement

Now that the NRA has finally broken its silence with a laundry list of preposterous proposals, the debate over gun control could go into overdrive. The Newtown tragedy has turned many parents into activists. Thanks to innovations like the White House petition site and social media efforts of established groups trying to prevent gun violence, millions of people are speaking out.

Advocacy like CodePink's protest of today's press conference will propel the debate.

Advocacy like CodePink’s protest of today’s press conference will propel the debate.

In a video statement released before Christmas, President Obama addressed this upsurge of concern over guns, assuring all those “hundreds of thousands of you from all 50 states” that: “We hear you.”  Obama emphasized that any real reform will require “sustained effort” – he even singled out “organizing” as a means for change!

Driving the ‘sustained effort’ on guns

It’s going to take the work of individuals and groups with experience in tapping grassroots support to influence legislation. It’s going to involve nonprofits of all types.  This means 501(c)(3)s like the well-known Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and AFJ member States United to Prevent Gun Violence.

It will also depend on action from 501(c)(4)s who can engage in unlimited lobbying like MomsRising – for whom gun control wasn’t a core issue but now is because of member concerns. And of course, groups on the forefront of this battle like the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Mayors to Stop Illegal Guns.

And, as Obama mentioned, community organizers could play an important role in this effort, like those who belong to the PICO National Network which has already been active on this issue, and others.

Of course, undergirding all this work is the financial support and encouragement of foundations, both public and private, which can and do fund the advocacy that will be necessary to change and create laws.

Shift in debate signals opportunity for action

At AFJ, we’re hopeful that the nation has reached a tipping point. Gun control has been a longstanding concern of ours – in the past decade ago we ran a program engaging young people and coaches in the movement and produced documentaries about the lethal toll of gun violence and related issues.

Ten years later, we hope, as former Brady Campaign Vice President Dennis Henigan wrote, that we’re at an “unprecedented” moment in the conversation about regulating guns. Henigan pointed to the example of the anti-tobacco movement as evidence that the suffering of children has the potential to transform the debate:

“When the welfare of our kids is at risk, we insist that something be done.”

And who will be doing something? The community organizers and nonprofits who can harness the power of individuals fed up with the political stalemate in this country to push for stronger laws.

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