The first entry in this series provided data on just how bad gun violence is in the US and highlighted a tremendous opportunity for improvement.
About a year or so ago, I was lucky enough to meet Dan Gross, the co-founder and CEO of PAX, a New York-based organization which has developed two truly innovative programs which reduce gun violence long before anybody ever fires a weapon. A former advertising executive, Dan found his life changed forever when his brother became the innocent victim of gun violence himself: his younger brother Matthew was critically wounded in the now infamous 1997 shooting on the observation deck of New York’s iconic Empire State Building. Leaving his lucrative advertising career behind, Dan has since become first the leader of PAX and then the creator of two important programs.
One of these programs, Speak Up, addresses the reality that many school shootings are avoidable. According to the US government, over 1,000,000 students take some kind of weapon to school at least once a month. Moreover, over 80% of school attacker tell someone of their plans before they execute them. In other words, in four out of five cases, friends of the perpetrators−often themselves students in the very schools which will later fall victim to gun violence−have heard rumors, threats, innuendo, or otherwise have reason to suspect the perpetrators may turn to guns to settle their grievances. Although it seems obvious that a “hotline,” reminiscent of suicide prevention hotlines, should be created for kids to report such threats anonymously, it turns out not to be quite so simple. There are both legal and procedural complications inherent in accepting anonymous tips regarding minors. Enter Speak Up! Thanks to a 24/7 hotline at 866-Speak-Up and numerous educational and support materials, students now have a safe an anonymous resource on which they can rely. Perhaps equally importantly, PAX has spent the time and money to develop a carefully-calibrated protocol which is endorsed by national law enforcement and educators’ organizations.
The second program, called ASK, encourages parents to ask if the homes which their children visit to play contain firearms. Why? Because a shocking 1.7 million children in the US live in homes with weapons which are both loaded and unlocked. In 2003, nearly eight children and teens were killed by firearms every single day. And in 2004, a horrifying 37 children and teens were injured by firearms every single day. With 40% of children living in households containing firearms, it’s not unreasonable for parents to ask: “Are there any guns where my children are playing?” (As aside: neither I nor, it seems, PAX, have any objection to properly licensed and secured—i.e., locked—firearms. This is not a gun control issue. This is a safety issue.) This year, on June 21st (the first day of summer), communities nationwide will recognize ASK Day, a day to focus on asking a simple question which can save kids’ lives.
If you have a moment, browse over to the PAX website and learn a little bit more. Find out how you can help. Every time these two PAX programs succeeds in reducing an incident of gun violence—even if that eliminates an opportunity for a ShotSpotter-assisted arrest—I, for one, will feel our society has taken a step in the right direction.