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Arm Grassroots Power of Those Living in “Gun Rights” States

Do not underestimate the significance of the gun control bill now before the Senate. If it passes, it will be the first gun safety legislation to pass in 30 years. Finally, Congress will have the authority to regulate guns. Advocacy works.

But until there are 52 Democrats in the Senate, broader reform is unlikely. State level advocacy is the way to keep the momentum going forward and to keep up the pressure on Congress.

The grassroots power that matters most belongs to those living in states dominated by gun rights legislators.

Funders and nonprofits can make a difference. Advocacy to change laws is not the only solution, particularly in a country where some states have almost no oversight of guns. But it is an essential step to reduce gun violence. This begins with funders and nonprofits investing in, amplifying, and supporting the grassroots voices that will change the actions of state legislators.

Contrary to those who feel paralyzed, we think there is opportunity in this moment. Here is why.

There is the little girl whose body was so destroyed by one shooter’s assault weapon that her parents could only identify her by a green converse sneaker.

FOX NEWs covered Matthew McConaughey, gun owner and native of Uvalde, at the White House speaking passionately for legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase an assault weapon to twenty-one, create waiting periods, and institute red flag rules laws.

There is a wealth of clear data of the impact of eliminating controls on gun ownership controls and effective public policy to reduce gun violence. Nicholas Kristoff wrote about this. “These Gun Reforms Could Save 15,000 lives. We Can Achieve Them.”

Other countries with histories of proud gun ownership and lax gun laws have made the shift. Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Norway, and New Zealand all quickly responded to mass shootings with tightened gun laws.

Even before the shocking mass murders in Uvalde and Buffalo, poll after poll shows that most Americans favor stricter gun control laws. According to a September 2021 Pew Research survey, 81% of Americans supported background checks; 63% supported an assault weapon ban and a ban on high capacity magazines; and a majority opposed permit-less concealed carry.

The United States has a history of citizen action leading to laws about drunk driving, smoking, airport security and seat belts; all of which looked impossible to achieve back in the day.

Gun control could be the same. Look to Florida for a model. Following the Parkland shootings, in response to a passionate, well organized student campaign backed up by the public, the Republican controlled Florida Legislature passed a bill which raised the age to buy a rifle to 21, created a waiting period, set up “red flag” laws, and invested in money for student mental health as well as a program that allowed armed individuals to be on campus.

Time to pivot to the state level.

If this issue deeply affects your clients and community, and you and your staff, and your Board and Leadership support moving forward, here are starting points.

Find an advocacy group or organize one.

The gun safety movement has already started. There are local chapters of Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and March for our Lives as well as local groups. They can be incredibly helpful not only about policy but also message and strategy. They know which politicians need to be targeted for difficult conversations. They want new voices, larger networks, and more funding. New members are welcome.

Look for unlikely allies. The law enforcement community has done amazing work in passing legislation. Gun owners like Matthew McConaughey speaking out for responsible laws cuts right through the culture war around the second amendment. Foundations can help advocacy groups reach these gun owners that have not traditionally been part of gun safety work. Some of them are turning in their assault weapons to police or expressing their personal dismay at NRA stands– individual actions that can be a precursor to joining a collective effort.

Funders can organize their own collaboratives to fund both violence prevention programs and advocacy as Drew Lindsay writes here.

Just this past week 220 CEOs of major corporations issued a call for gun safety reform. Foundations and nonprofits should look to form alliances with these and other supportive businesses.

Many of the most powerful and committed voices to demand effective gun policy are those belonging to youth. The Parkland students built partnerships across the country with other youth advocacy groups making sure to give Black and brown youth power and visibility. Reach out to the youth advocacy groups in your communities. Ask them what they want and need. Help them get it. Give them power at the table. The youth are organizing to save their lives and getting better and better at doing it.

Grassroots folks, funders, and nonprofit leaders can support each other in pushing for action.

Grab the public narrative

There are leaders who talk about arming the lunch lady and the evil of shooters. They blame mental illness and single parent families. Their billboards proclaim that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Ted Cruz blames school doors. Others say that an only good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun despite the failure of nineteen law enforcement personnel inside Robb Elementary School. Fox News, social media, and the NRA, with funding from gun manufacturers and Putin, are selling the idea that guns are essential to protect personal safety. DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY WITH THIS NARRATIVE.

Switch the conversation. BE LOUD. Make it impossible for politicians to ignore a country petrified about sending their kids to school, walking on public streets, relaxing in public spaces, attending religious services, and now shopping at the local grocery story. Nonprofits and foundations can organize and fund public meetings, bring legislators and policy makers to public forums, support broad coalitions, and use their public platforms. Marches, eye grabbing protests, videos, ads, media appearances all work if the message stays strong and consistent.

Nonprofit leaders have tremendous credibility when speaking about issues that deeply effect their clients. Back this up with personal stories from staff, donors, and Boards. Write letters to the editor. Build the advocacy infrastructure to be a powerful voice at the state level.


Even in Illinois, a deep blue state, the state affiliate of the NRA routinely turns out hundreds of supporters to the State Capital to lobby against gun control legislation. The NRA is gifted in using the voices of constituents to battle.

Power needs to be matched with power. Being political is not nasty or illegal. Politicians who do the right thing on gun control deserve your support. Participate in rallies and marches. Write letters. Sign in support of legislation. Give them cover.

Beefing up the power of local voices pushing for gun safety legislation can be done by a range of players: individual constituents, a group of concerned citizens, grassroots advocacy organizations. funders, and nonprofit leaders. What it translates to (and the ultimate test of its influence) is that voices are heard by decision-makers who feel the pressure to act.

This is how democracy works.

It is too late for the children of Ulvalde and the Black grocery store shoppers in Buffalo. But this is the time for us to honor their lives and so many others. Yes, we do that with moments of silence, thoughts, and prayers. But we need to do more.

Let us support the call to advocacy from David Hogg, the Parkland survivor and activist from March for Our Lives. He says- and we say – This Time Is Different.

— Roberta Rakove and Suzanne Strassberger

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