Gun violence is the fight of our lifetime. Every year, over 40,000 people die by guns in this country. Homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men and boys under 40 years old¹. Amid a once-in-a-lifetime global health pandemic, Americans looked to weapons for protection, purchasing a record number of firearms. In the summer of 2020, people were shot and killed across U.S. cities as everyday gun violence drastically increased nationwide.
Gun violence is a public health epidemic. As Gen-Z, most of us learned how to protect ourselves during an active shooter situation while in Kindergarten learning to write our name. Some of us were exposed to gun violence in our homes or neighborhoods even earlier. Those of us who survive childhood will grow older in a country where gun-related deaths have shortened life expectancy by an average of almost 104 days, including 45.9 days lost to homicide and 52.3 days to suicides.
Gun control by itself will not stop this crisis. Gun safety alone cannot disrupt this cycle of death. We can’t solely legislate gun violence away. Instead, we must work toward making gun violence obsolete by preventing it from happening in the first place.
A New Framework for Ending Gun Violence
March For Our Lives is a movement dedicated to ending all forms of gun violence — not just mass shootings, but everyday gun violence, police violence and more. We fight for a world where no person has to face this tragic and preventable end.
Our mission calls for something more bold and transformative than gun control alone. We call for a world that is re-imagined: a world where oppressive power structures are abandoned and community is embraced. A world where all human needs are met and love of people is centered.²
People with access to food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, and clean water — who are part of loving and thriving communities, where they are valued, safe, and belong — do not turn to guns. But our capitalist, white supremacist society has made it nearly impossible for everyday folks to attain the all of the essentials for human wellbeing. Violence is the result of that brokenness.
Gun violence is the direct consequence of failing to address the larger, systemic issues in our society that exacerbate it. To fully eradicate gun violence, we must understand and liberate ourselves from its root causes and restore what has been destroyed.
The Five Forces Fueling Gun Violence is our theory of change to do this necessary liberation work. It is the result of intense dialogue within our movement centered on a basic question: what distinguishes a gun violence prevention approach from a gun control approach?
If you are reading this, we assume that you are interested in answering this question too and we invite you to learn alongside us as we figure out how to do our advocacy through this new lens. Rather than reacting to gun violence and treating the symptoms, we want to do our work in a fundamentally new way.
We aim to name and explore the personal and societal forces that give rise to gun violence. We believe that if we can make an impact in these key areas, we can save lives and get closer to a world where gun violence is obsolete.
Language is important to us. We chose the term “forces” because the issues that lead to gun violence are constantly shape-shifting. As our culture and laws change, we know that these persistent deep-rooted problems — like political gridlock, militarization, and armed intimidation — will find new ways to emerge. We hope that this new framework will give us the ability to do authentic anti-violence work in our communities and understand multiple, complex truths.
I. Gun Glorification
This is a cultural problem. Americans have a problematic and unhealthy relationship with guns. Gun glorification is the belief embedded in our culture that power and safety are derived from guns. In this country, we put guns on a pedestal and prioritize firearm access over access to human needs. This makes guns extremely easy to access — easier than housing or medical care.
The U.S. is just 4% of the world’s population but owns about 40% of guns owned by civilians globally.³
It is not enough to require background checks or ban assault weapons. We have to call for these measures while replacing our outsized love of guns with a love for people and ourselves.
II: Armed Supremacy
This is a problem of dominance. Armed supremacy is the use of guns and the threat of gun violence to reinforce power structures, hierarchies and status. It is how individuals or groups of people reinforce their perceived value relative to those with less power. It is how white supremacy and patriarchy survive.
Every time we see a police officer brutalize or kill a civilian — oftentimes someone who is BIPOC or disabled — that is armed supremacy in action. There is no recourse because armed supremacy is designed to uphold the status quo.
In recent decades, from the war on drugs to the war on terror, our government has prioritized law enforcement and defense spending over social welfare. As a result, those who are allegedly responsible for protecting public safety have become more militarized and authoritarian.
Armed supremacy is not limited to the state. Violence against women and child abuse are clear examples of groups with more power, men and women adults, reinforcing their dominance over the disempowered.
III: Political Apathy and Corruption
Political apathy and corruption is the gradual destruction of the democratic principle that power comes from the people. It happens when politics fails to change lived outcomes for those it’s meant to serve. Politicians use voters to gain power for themselves, but the voters get little in return. People become apathetic because they are not valued or empowered.
A majority of Americans from both political parties support basic solutions to curb access to guns. Yet there has been very little federal acknowledgment or action as the gun violence epidemic has gotten progressively worse in the last couple of decades. Groups like the NRA capitalize on our unhealthy gun culture by acting as kingmakers in our democracy, exercising too much control over who can get elected. Politicians are afraid to address gun violence because they may lose power. They turn a blind eye to the mass death of their constituents because they are playing a political game with our lives.
Poverty is the state of not having enough material possessions, income or resources to meet basic human needs. The communities facing the highest rates of everyday gun violence have been intentionally impoverished — systemically denied resources and opportunity by the state for generations.
This is the design of oppression. When communities are forced into desperation and express that distress through gun violence, it’s because the system has already failed them. Guns fill the gap where resources are lacking. Guns are used to attain the resources and money to meet human needs, or to simply fulfill self-worth.
V: The National Mental Health Crisis
While we fight to end gun violence, there is another mass-scale public health emergency happening simultaneously. Millions of Americans are struggling with undiagnosed and untreated mental illness and lack of access to mental health support and care.
People with mental illness are often mischaracterized as being a threat to others, when in fact, they are at higher risk of becoming a victim of gun violence themselves, including suicide. They are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement compared to people who do not suffer with mental illness.⁴ In U.S. suicide deaths, firearms are used approximately half of the time.⁵
Our country’s mental health crisis is a manifestation of all four previous forces: gun glorification, armed supremacy, political apathy and corruption, and poverty. These crises are true symbols of how far we’ve strayed from a healthy and vibrant society. We must eliminate needless human suffering.
Join Us in Our Journey
March For Our Lives was founded with righteous anger towards the status quo in our society that said our lives are disposable, and that gun violence in an act of destiny. The opposite is true. Gun violence is the result of deliberately oppressive systems, intolerance, and a failure to see the humanity in ourselves and each other. Our true destiny is to be able to find and live out our purpose, in loving communities, without the fear of violence.
Within our three years of existence, our organization has shifted from one primarily focused on school-based violence and mass shootings to ending all forms of gun violence. Today, our movement is powered by young leaders nationwide who have experienced the intersection of gun violence and the forces that fuel it. As we’ve grown, we have desired to take a more intersectional approach to our advocacy, and we hope this framework will allow us to do that more effectively and concretely. We hope to learn as we go, and gain a better understanding of the layers to this epidemic.
footnotes + additional sources
- According to 2019 CDC data, homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men and boys under 40. See here, on page 24.
- March For Our Lives defines human needs using organizer Mariame Kaba’s definition: Basic human needs include, “food, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, clean water, and more things that are foundational to personal and community safety”
- Small Arms Survey
- Treatment Advocacy Center
- UC Davis Health