Local advocates stress intersectional and non-punitive approaches to gun violence prevention


Illustration by Hank Yang

Local advocates call on city council and the Biden administration to address gun violence while taking racial and gender disparities into account.

William Clark, Reporter

This story contains mentions of gun violence and domestic violence.

After nationwide firearm deaths reached a 20-year high in 2020, Evanston- and Illinois-based  advocates are pushing for further implementation of gun-violence prevention policies.

Although gun violence increased nationally in 2020, some advocates say the issue doesn’t receive enough attention within the Evanston community, especially when it happens in Black and lower-income neighborhoods. Black men are eight times more likely to die by firearm homicide than the general population, according to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

Carolyn Murray, a gun control advocate and former 5th Ward aldermanic candidate, said City Council needs to take gun violence and its effects on the community more seriously. 

In 2012, when Murray was working to launch Evanston’s first gun buyback program in recent memory, her 19-year old son Justin was shot and killed in Evanston outside his grandmother’s home.

“My son is dead, and he’s never coming back,” Murray said. “So my advocacy is because I care, and I’m very passionate about my community.”

Since the buyback program launched, Murray said it has helped get over 300 guns off the streets. Historically, the program was funded by donations from Northwestern, NorthShore University HealthSystem and other private organizations. However, Murray said the gun buyback program is currently running low on funds, and will need more money to continue operating.

But Murray said gun buybacks alone aren’t enough to address Evanston’s gun violence problem. 

“Evanston needs to take a very hard look at how we resource… and what (programs) we provide for families that are at high risk for gun violence,” Murray said. 

She said she wants the city to increase funding for gun violence prevention programs and implement a city-wide task force to investigate cases of gun violence and potential solutions.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who was sworn in Monday, said he plans to remain “laser-focused” on the issue of gun violence, especially as it impacts the 5th and 8th Wards. 

However, Reid said he wants to avoid punitive gun control measures that rely on policing and incarcerating people who possess firearms illegally. Some gun control advocates say defunding police departments and investing in alternate community safety programs would be easier if less people were armed, although many gun control laws have historically been enforced by police departments.

“We need to… try to get guns off the street, but do it in a manner that does not violate the rights of our residents,” Reid said. 

Instead, he said, Evanston should increase support for people in situations that increase their likelihood to commit acts of violence. Reid said gun violence can be related to factors like mistrust of established legal channels, such as police and court systems.

However, while local gun violence prevention initiatives are important, some advocates said the issue also needs to be addressed at the federal level.

Peyton Arens is an Illinois State Director for March for Our Lives, a national, youth-led gun control advocacy group. He said the organization wants the federal government to address gun violence as a public health issue that’s interconnected with other structural disparities, including lack of access to mental health care, rather than an issue that can be dealt with entirely by law enforcement. 

Arens said gun control can go hand in hand with police demilitarization. A demilitarized system could include departments of unarmed people tasked with responding to situations like mental health emergencies and routine traffic violations instead of armed police officers, reducing the likelihood of violent encounters, he said. 

Creating that type of system, however, would be easier if less people were armed, Arens said.

“If there’s less guns on the street… police don’t necessarily have to respond with a firearm,” Arens said. “Transferring resources to different departments in a more broad system would make sense, especially in an area as dense and populated as Chicago, because police are forced to handle a lot of different things that they aren’t specifically trained to handle.”

At the national level, March for Our Lives has demanded President Joe Biden set aside $1 billion to fund gun violence prevention initiatives and research. The organization is also pressuring Biden to appoint a Director of Gun Violence Prevention to support community-level violence prevention initiatives and recommend gun control measures to Congress and the president.

Intersectionality in these programs will be essential, Arens said, because gun violence disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color. According to the CDC, firearm homicides impact Black, Native American and Latino communities considerably more than White and Asian American communities.

Hillary Douin, the director of the Domestic Violence Program at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, said gun control is also connected to domestic violence prevention. A 2003 study from the National Institutes of Health found that women are five times more likely to be killed by abusive partners if there is a gun in their household.

Douin said measures like universal background checks and the removal of guns from homes where a judge has granted an order of protection can address domestic gun violence.

In Evanston, Murray said an intersectional approach to gun control means recognizing that Black communities face disproportionate violence. 

She said she wants racial justice activists in the city to include gun violence prevention in their activism.

“We systematically have made other priorities more important than saving… Black kids,” Murray said. “Until we put resources into our communities to make our quality of life just as fair as any other residents throughout the city… we really can’t (say) that we care so much about these Black men.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @willsclark01

Related Stories: 
In the shadow of her son’s death, Evanston mother helps remove over 200 unwanted guns from Evanston homes, streets
Evanston woman dies one week after Chicago gunman shot her in crime spree
Everything Evanston: Reflecting on gun violence in the 8th Ward