Empowering Students to End Gun Violence
By Keith Martin, Assistant Editor
More and more young adults are taking a stand and becoming vocal about the issues affecting them, including gun violence. Whether they know someone whose life has been changed or taken by a gun or have just been moved by incidents across the nation, including school shootings, young people are getting more involved in an issue that is both statistically and emotionally changing the lives of their peers. By uniting students in high school corridors and college campuses nationwide, one group hopes to inspire and strengthen the youth of today, so that they can become the policymakers of the future.
"You always hear debates on the news [regarding gun violence and the effects on young people], but never hear a student's voice on this or other public policy debates," says Mike Gipstein, founder of the Campus Alliance to End Gun Violence. "[Gun violence] affects them, yet how come they are not represented? A student's voice is powerful and when they talk, people listen."
Gipstein founded the Alliance after earning a dual degree in public policy and political science from Brown University in 1998, yet admits that he wasn't really politically or socially active as a student. His inspiration for creating the organization came instead from knowing several people who had committed suicide with a gun and from a shooting that occurred at his school on the path he used everyday to get to class.
By using the Alliance to empower active students, Gipstein says he is continuing along a path paved by other generations.
"If you look at the history of student movements, from Vietnam to the subtle activism surrounding the environment, these were all started by the young generation," he says.
Creating A National Network
By bringing together both student chapters of the Alliance at colleges and universities as well as other student groups, the Alliance looks to raise awareness of gun violence problems and lobby for change. The group's website (www.caegv.org) serves as a clearinghouse of gun violence statistics, news, and other resources to aid students in everything from starting their own chapter to organizing campus rallies.
"[The website is] a 'one-stop shop,'" says Gipstein. "Instead of [students] having to [gather information] themselves, there is a lot of good information, so why rewrite it."
Among the Alliance's positions are that Congress should authorize product safety standards for guns and that every gun buyer should pass a background check and a test before purchase. The Alliance also focuses on suicide, which comprises 57% of gun violence, a statistic the organization says the gun lobby ignores.
"This is a first step to making changes in gun violence and we are here to help," says Gipstein. "It is remarkably easy to get involved and be heard, you just have to do it the right way."
Allies with a Common Cause
After its inception, the Alliance looked to the David Bohnett Foundation, a grant-making organization focused on social activism, to help set up a Washington D.C. office. After discussing funding options, it was clear to the Bohnett Foundation that the goals and mission of the Alliance were very similar to that of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (CPHV). The Foundation was able to bring the two organizations together and last year, the CPHV agreed to host the Alliance, providing them with office space, access equipment and technology as well as mentoring services. According to Gipstein, later this year the Alliance will merge with the CPHV to become a full-time program of the Center, adding more staff members and resources.
The Alliance's efforts have been helped by the Bohnett Foundation through a grant that funded two interns who have not only developed the website, but also led training sessions for campus leaders.
Last summer, the Bohnett interns worked with the CPHV to promote and run the Alliance's "Activism 101" training event. The daylong training gave students the opportunity to learn about gun violence and organizing skills to bring back to their campus. By using a "train the trainer" model, the session was able to give college and high school students the tools to become active leaders on their campus and utilize the Alliance's resources to start making changes both locally and nationally.
"The Bohnett Foundation is proud to support the important work of [the Campus Alliance," says David Bohnett, the Foundation's Executive Director. "We look to fund organizations with innovative models and approaches toward ending the epidemic of gun violence, and we are impressed with the success of the efforts of the Campus Alliance."
The Bear Campaign
One of the Alliance's upcoming campaigns is "The Bear Campaign," which advocates the regulation of guns through similar public health studies, safety engineering and standard setting used for teddy bears to protect young people from injury. By demonstrating the rigorous process that a toy must go through in order to end up in a child's hands, the campaign suggests the same effort should be put into simple, proven safety devices that can prevent unintentional shootings and save lives.
One such device is a chamber load indicator that indicates whether a bullet is in firing position - something akin to the indicator on cameras that tell how many pictures a roll of film has left.
Online materials are included on the Alliance's website, outlining facts and suggesting themes to chapter members to help make the case for safety regulations. As the site states, "We will put together sample materials and building blocks, but we need you to look for clever, creative, and memorable ways of making these points and teaching your community about the issue."
For more information on the Alliance, go to www.caegv.org
For more information on the Bohnett Foundation, go to www.bohnettfoundation.org
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