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Why Gun Violence Is A Public Health Crisis & What Social Marketing Can Do About It

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

It was on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, the day of the mass school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that I decided it was time for social marketers to “rise” and contribute more to reducing gun deaths and injuries. I not only heard that 19 children and two teachers were killed during the shooting, I also read that the shooter had sent text messages to a friend sharing that “Ima go shoot up a elementary school rn (right now).” Then I read on the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation website that “93% of school shooters planned the attack in advance, and that in 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.” The next day I learned that almost half of school shooters stole the gun from a family member. It was clear to me that two behaviors could have helped prevent this shooting, as well as future ones: “Say Something If See Something”, and “Store Guns Safely.”

Future research confirmed why gun deaths and injuries are now considered a public health crisis in America:

  • 100+ Americans die every day, on average, from a gun injury.
  • Gun injuries are the leading cause of death for children and teens since 2020.
  • 400+ Mass shootings occur every year, more than 1/day on average.
  • 50+ School shootings occur every year, almost 1/week on average.
  • Gun deaths exceed the number of car accident deaths and are at the same level as breast cancer.

Six months of additional research convinced me that social marketers can contribute to influencing four major protective behavior strategies, ones I now refer to as the 4Ss.

#1:  Suicide Interventions

  • More than 60% of gun deaths with intent are suicide, more than 65/day on average.

#2   Safe Gun Storage:

  • 44% of Americans have at least one gun in their home.
  • 63% of gun owners have at least one gun in their home never locked up
  • 40% of gun owners have at least one gun loaded and accessible.
  • Among children and youth under 18, over 80% of firearm suicides involved a gun belonging to a family member.
  • Almost half of school shooters stole the gun from a family member.

#3: Say Something If See Something:

  • Almost half of mass shooters “leaked their plan” in advance.
  • For 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person knew of the person’s intent.

#4: Social Equity Lens:

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

In this special blog series, I will elaborate on these four areas of focus, one at a time. I will provide examples of successful social marketing campaigns in the past to inspire future efforts.

(References and more detail such as years and source for these statistics can be found in my book Reducing Gun Deaths & Injuries: A Social Marketing Approach, Ethics International Press, 2023)