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What Can Be Done to Reduce Gun Deaths & Injuries Using a Social Equity Lens?

This post is the final of a five-part series by Nancy Lee exploring how social marketing strategies can reduce gun deaths and injuries in America. Nancy Lee is a strategic advisor to C+C and one of the world’s leading authorities on social marketing.

**Content Warning: This post addresses the topics of suicide and gun violence. If you or someone you know is struggling, please consider reaching out to a mental health professional, a support hotline, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or by dialing 988, the new three-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.**

Gun deaths and injuries are now considered a public health crisis in America. A personal research journey has led to four areas of focus for citizen behavior change actions (The 4Ss):

  • Suicide Interventions
  • Storage
  • See Something. Say Something.
  • Social Equity

This month’s blog elaborates on the power of a Social Equity approach to program development.

What Can Be Done to Reduce Gun Deaths & Injuries Using a Social Equity Lens?

These disturbing facts confirm the need for social marketers to use a social equity lens when developing social marketing campaigns and determining resource allocation, especially when selecting a priority audience:

  • 84% of gun homicide victims are male (2019).
  • 53% of gun homicide victims are Black vs. 13% in the general population (2019).
  • Veterans represent almost 18% of gun suicide deaths even though they make up about 7% of the U.S. adult population.

Here, we highlight an impactful Social Marketing effort that allocated resources in cities with high rates of violent crime, focusing on a public health approach by engaging street outreach workers trained to mediate conflicts and prevent retaliatory violence.

Priority Audiences & Desired Behaviors

Street outreach programs recruit, train, and support a diverse group of workers to intervene, mediate disputes, and support people in the community identified as having the highest risk of engaging in, or becoming victims of, gun violence. To support a deep connection and empathy with those at risk for violence, one ideal group of outreach workers are those with a personal history with gun violence and/or incarceration, as they can draw on their own lived experiences. “The voice and perspective of People With Lived Experience (PWLE) is essential to social work practice; to support good practice, challenge inadequate practice and thereby contribute to the improvement of social work intervention,” notes this study from the British Journal of Social Work.


A study by the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, in partnership with the Chicago outreach community, provides major insights related to recruitment and retention of street outreach workers. Barriers identified include reluctance and concern with putting themselves back into the violence of the streets, with many traumatized from a prior incident and in need for more access to mental healthcare; perceptions of how low the pay is and currently experiencing difficulty in paying their monthly bills; and a lack of healthy relationships for some in their own lives, making it difficult to support others to accomplish this.

Benefits & Motivators

The Council on Criminal Justice recommends that to support outreach workers it is important to provide desired resources in order to do the job properly. “For years, street outreach workers have worked long hours with little pay, no benefits, and with minimal opportunity for upward mobility or advancement. Additionally, workers have not received sufficient support for addressing the trauma – direct and vicarious – that often comes with the work. That must change. Properly resourcing street outreach means creating viable career pathways over the long term and providing the mental health services needed by those who engage in the work.”

Results from data analysis of a street outreach effort in Brooklyn, New York concluded that gun injuries fell 50%, and shooting victimizations fell 15% following the implementation of the program.


I hope this five-part blog series will inform social marketers that there are clearly four citizen behaviors that can help reduce gun deaths and injuries, and that research findings and success stories will then inspire the development of programs and campaigns that focus on these 4Ss.

This citizen-oriented approach is needed to create impactful change, as efforts to create laws and policy changes are not happening quickly, and do not contribute as significantly to creating positive community social norms.


References and more detail such as years and sources for these statistics can be found in Nancy Lee’s book, Reducing Gun Deaths & Injuries: A Social Marketing Approach, Ethics International Press, 2023