What Are Our Options for Addressing Gun Violence?

Over the past several years, we have seen engagement in social change in the U.S. unlike any that I have seen in my lifetime—from Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ equality to climate change, TimesUp and now gun violence prevention.

Last year I wrote about my experience participating in the Women’s March on Washington and what social and behavioral science can tell us about why we march and why protest marches can be a successful tool in social change. As I plan to participate in the March For Our Lives on March 24, and because I am a social marketer, I find myself reflecting on how social marketing can be best utilized to tackle our society’s wicked problem of gun violence.

By social marketing, I’m not talking about how Emma González is utilizing her Twitter handle, @Emma4Change, to engage her 1.22 million (and growing!) followers in advocating for gun control. Don’t get me wrong, social media is a powerful promotional channel to support social marketing initiatives, and the impact that Emma and her classmates are having in driving our national discussion is awe-inspiring.

The social marketing I’m talking about, however, is defined by Nancy Lee in her book “Policymaking for Citizen Behavior Change: A Social Marketing Approach” as, a “strategic planning process that uses marketing principles and techniques to influence behavior change that benefits society as well as the individual”. With a strategic marketing mix of the 4 Ps (product, price, place, and promotion) that reduces barriers and increases the benefits of behavior change, social marketing.

There are many ways to utilize social marketing to reduce gun violence. So many, in fact, that it’s hard to determine where to start. Gun violence is a complex topic with many potential behaviors to attempt to change and myriad priority audiences to engage, each with their own barriers and benefits. For example, should we aim to:

  • Convince gun owners to lock up their guns more effectively to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands?
  • Motivate gun sellers to be more careful about who they sell to?
  • Increase mental health treatment for those suffering from suicidal or violent thoughts?
  • Increase the number of parents who participate in programs to help them raise emotionally healthy children?
  • Increase people’s ability to identify and intervene with troubled individuals who are threatening violence?
  • Increase the number of students who seek to become trained professionals in counseling and mediation services, or other forms of intervention that can reduce the risk of violence?

Yes, all of that. While I’m not a gun violence prevention expert, it strikes me that to make significant progress, we need all of these social marketing initiatives, and more, working in tandem to make a difference.

Yet, as valuable as I believe social marketing can be in reducing injuries and deaths from gun violence, it is but one strategy for creating the pervasive social change that is really needed on this topic. We also need:

  • Education, like the lockdown drills that are happening in my children’s schools this week;
  • Policy Change to, among other priorities:
    • Enable the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to study gun violence and identify research-based strategies to better prevent it;
    • Restrict access to gun sales (thank you Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart for your leadership on this front!); and
    • Improve access to mental health services for people who need them;
  • Legislation, which we are starting to see with Florida’s recently-passed—and signed—gun-control bill; and
  • Advocacy which, thanks to the leadership of the eloquent, passionate students in Parkland, the tens of thousands of participants in #NationalWalkoutDay, as well as organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety, is taking hold in communities across the nation.

It saddens me to my core that families and communities across the country have had to endure tragedy after tragedy for us to get to this point of progress. But I am optimistic that we are turning a corner, and I am more hopeful than ever that this momentum will be sustained and result in a safer future for all Americans.

What do you think will help us get there?

Jennifer Wayman, M.H.S.
President and CEO