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Local activists take aim at gun violence

Whether you focus on school shootings, mass shootings, hate crimes, police brutality, suicides or domestic violence, it is clear that America has a gun violence problem.

In 2019, there were 39,707 firearm-related deaths in the United States – about 109 people dying from a firearm-related injury each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Six out of every 10 deaths were firearm suicides and more than three out of every 10 were firearm homicides, according to the center’s statistics.

In Chicago, the number of shooting victims has risen by 24% over the same time last year, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The number of shooting victims so far this year —1,386 people— has increased by 1.116 above last year’s numbers, the newspaper reported.

Organizations and activists in Chicago are working to prevent gun violence through a focus on strengthening communities.

“We need to be attacking this problem from the root, and not responding to it,” said Peyton Arens, the Illinois state director of March for Our Lives. Through programs like Aid & Alliance, March for Our Lives is working to broaden the idea of how prevention can include strengthening communities and providing for people’s needs. The organization has conducted clothing and book drives and is planning future mutual aid drives that include food. “It doesn’t seem like it is direct violence prevention, but it’s all part of this intersectionality piece,” he said. “And that can, in turn, foster peace in a community.”

Build Chicago also uses school and community-based programs to provide young people with an enhanced sense of self-worth, accomplishment and empowerment as well as the tools to “resist risky behavior and make positive choices,” according to the organization’s website. Rosa Rios, who works at Build Chicago, stresses the importance of providing structure through recreational and academic activities such as gardening, music lessons and E-learning, to at risk youth as a means of preventing violence before it can occur.

“I think [E-learning] helps because it still gets them out of the hole, it still gives them that routine of getting up, getting ready for school, getting out even though they’re not going to school per se, but it helps them to stay busy,” Rios said.

In a June 8 story, The Chicago Sun-Times reported children in in Chicago are dying from gun violence at a rate three times higher than last year. “Out of nearly 1,500 shooting victims so far this year, at least 52 victims were 15 or younger, compared to 43 last year, an increase of 21%,” according to the newspaper’s analysis.

Kina Collins, the executive director of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, advocates reallocating funds toward violence prevention programs. “We should be investing in public safety measures to make sure to make sure that we’re using our budgets wisely, because it’s always cheaper to invest in prevention versus reaction,” Collins said.

Collins, who recently announced a second run for Congress representing the state’s 7th Congressional District, also advocates for the implementation of stricter gun laws, including the Firearm Restraining Order, the Gun Dealer Certification act, and the Block Illegal Ownership bill as means of preventing gun violence on a large scale.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Collins said. “We still have 40,000 people dying every year by gun violence. The way that I look at that number is 40,000 deaths that did not need to take place. And that’s the sinister thing about gun violence, is that 100% of deaths by guns are preventable,”

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