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In the days following the Newtown tragedy, something remarkable happened.
Americans took to media and social media outlets not only to express grief, but to demand concrete policy action. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center's Journalism Project, during the week after Newtown the call for stronger gun laws in social media and newspaper opinion pages outweighed every other conversation, including speculation about motives or mental health.
The Obama administration responded quickly, developing a comprehensive strategy–based on first-rate research by gun violence prevention and mental and public health experts, including several Joyce grantees–to curb gun violence by limiting access to guns by dangerous persons and restricting the most lethal weapons. A majority of U.S. senators (54) backed a key idea from that plan, voting on a bill cosponsored by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to expand background checks. Unfortunately, this was not enough to overcome a filibuster by opponents of common sense gun laws.
While Congress did not act, there was important progress made at both the federal and state level. Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York
passed new laws that expand background checks for gun purchases, and states including California, Connecticut, and Maryland placed new limits on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Many states, including New Jersey and Texas, have new requirements that strengthen background checks by requiring submission of records that disqualify people from owning a firearm.
In Pennsylvania, where CeaseFire PA's programs of public education and engagement have galvanized the citizenry, state police uploaded 642,000 mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System. Other states, such as Delaware and Illinois, gave law enforcement new tools to combat gun trafficking.
The fact that there is still so much to do should not obscure the accomplishments of the past 12 months and more. A commitment to data gathering and research has given us the information we need to make effective policy decisions; support for educating and organizing the public has helped build a network of engaged Americans in communities across this country. These new voices, energy, and attention are driving the momentum for meaningful gun violence prevention policies now and in the years to come.
The day after the shooting at Sandy Hook, Shannon Watts, an Indianapolis mom, put up a Facebook page seeking "Moms for Gun Control." By the end of 2013, that page had become Moms Demand Action, a 140,000-member strong organization with branches in all 50 states.
The Moms' approach is as uncomplicated as their slogan: "It's time for gun sense in America." Ask moms to speak up for the adoption of sensible policies to prevent the gun violence that is killing nearly eight children a day. Ask chains where moms and children shop to prohibit firearms from their stores. And ask Facebook, the site where it all began, to take steps to stop illegal gun sales on its pages.
By early 2014, Moms convinced Starbucks to change its policy to say that guns are not welcome in its stores; persuaded Facebook to implement new policies to curb illegal gun sales on its platform; and joined forces with another powerful group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, to continue to build a movement for safer communities.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, the President proposed and Congress approved funding to expand a critical data source for understanding and preventing gun violence: the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS).
Launched as a pilot in 1999 with support from Joyce and other foundations, NVDRS collects data from police, medical examiners, and other sources on each violent death in participating states.
That gives researchers invaluable insights into such issues as youth suicide and domestic violence. The data helped spotlight the problem of veteran suicide, and led state and federal officials to focus on prevention.
The system has been housed at the CDC since 2002 and currently covers 18 states. New funding will expand it to more than half the states, toward the goal of nationwide coverage.