Here at Everytown for Gun Safety, we know the trauma of gun violence doesn’t end when the shooting stops. As a nation of survivors of gun violence, we must better understand the way survivors cope with trauma and embark on a journey toward healing. For many, this is a lifelong process.
That’s why, in May 2023, Everytown Research released a first-of-its-kind report that explored the ripple effects of gun violence trauma. The report made recommendations to disrupt cycles of trauma and violence. The study also identified solutions to better meet the short- and long-term needs of survivors of gun violence.
How we researched
As part of this research, Everytown conducted 16 virtual focus groups with 103 survivors of gun violence to better understand the impact of trauma at the community level and among specific identity groups.
Everytown intentionally recruited participants with diverse identities whose experiences with gun violence have not been researched extensively, including bereaved parents, students over the age of 18, Latinx and Black community members, and LGBTQ+ individuals. Collectively, the lived experiences of these survivors reflected the spectrum of gun violence in America, including homicide, suicide, domestic violence, mass shootings, hate-motivated violence, and more.
What we learned
Our research found that, after an incident of gun violence, 1 in 3 survivors live in fear and feel unsafe. Exposure to gun violence erodes a survivor’s sense of safety and ultimately how they navigate their environments, causing trauma responses such as:
- Anxiety, and
When gun violence is an ongoing and consistent occurrence, entire communities are faced with the ripples of trauma. The impacts of traumas stemming from systemic factors such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are compounded by the added trauma of gun violence.
Trauma from gun violence can have lasting and devastating effects for individuals and entire communities. But our research also showed that there are opportunities for healing and connection. Through trauma-awareness efforts and culturally responsive programs, people impacted by the trauma of gun violence can get the resources they need and can be a part of the solution to end gun violence.
Sharing our findings
Everytown was invited to present this research at the Bloomberg American Health Summit on November 7 and 8, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. This summit brings together public health experts, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health fellows, and policymakers from across the country to connect and address key public health issues facing our nation and our world.
Abigail Hurst, Everytown’s Director of Trauma-Informed Programs, and Dr. Tannuja Rozario, Everytown’s Associate Research Director, explored the findings outlined in our report, “Beyond Measure: New Research and Strategies on Gun Violence Trauma.” They were joined by James (JT) Timpson, Managing Director of Community Violence Initiatives at the Roca Impact Institute, an innovative leader in the field of violence intervention.
JT shared about the skills-based, brain-science approach Roca uses to address trauma in those who are impacted by violence and to educate practitioners about how trauma manifests in individuals. Together, our organizations laid out both the ripple effects of gun violence on communities and solutions to disrupt the cycles of trauma and violence this creates.
Everytown and Roca’s presentation session was standing-room only, and there were more than 50 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professionals in the audience. Other listeners at our session included physicians and practitioners in the fields of suicide prevention, violence interruption programs, programs designed to prevent recidivism, and state- and city-based public health programs from across the country.
In the middle of our presentation, there was an unexpected moment of validation and impact when two young men in the audience spoke up about the power of Roca and JT. These young men said that JT is a real and true man who cares about and shows up for his community in Baltimore. Their support demonstrated how important it is to build authentic trust and relationships in the community by showing up, learning, and teaching.
One of the questions raised during the presentation regarded funding and the realities of trauma, particularly when it comes to demonstrating key performance indicators in grant applications. JT spoke to the importance of flexible funding and fundraising to support programs that understand the realities, time, and effort needed to truly disrupt cycles of trauma and violence. Everytown is proud to offer funding and grants through our Community Safety Fund and Domestic Violence Grant Program that provide flexibility and lifesaving impacts.
Although the session was originally scheduled for a 60-minute time slot, we were still answering questions and connecting with the audience an hour after the session was completed. This level of engagement showed the impact our research had on participants, who were clearly eager to apply what they learned to their own programs and activities
There is hope as well as a call to action to better support survivors who are healing and to disrupt cycles of trauma and violence. We can do this by:
- Educating workers across systems including health care, law enforcement, mental health, victim services, the courts, and the media on the impact of trauma;
- Sharing about trauma-informed best practices with a culturally responsive lens;
- Continuing to expand access to trauma-informed peer support programming like Everytown’s SurvivorsConnect program; and
- Investing in and expanding technical assistance programs on trauma for community violence interruption (CVI) practitioners like the innovative and research-based work being done by Everytown’s CVI partner organization the Roca Impact Institute.
We are grateful to the organizers of the Bloomberg American Health Summit 2023 for inviting us to present in this space with such a key audience of leaders in the field of public health. As we go forward, we are exploring more opportunities to hold focus groups with survivors of gun violence—particularly people who have been personally affected by domestic violence murder-suicide with a gun—to understand survivors’ needs and experiences related to healing.