As of October 26, there have been 565 mass shootings in the United States this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That means there have been more mass shootings than days in a year.
These horrific events include a shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville in March, an attack by a man in a bulletproof vest that left five dead in Philadelphia in July, an October shooting in Lewiston, Maine that killed more than a dozen people and many, many other shootings that don’t garner enough attention.
These mass shootings are heartbreakingly commonplace throughout the U.S., which has a “26 times higher gun homicide rate than any peer nation,” according to Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization that fights for stronger gun laws throughout the United States. (The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four victims are injured or killed, not including any shooter.)
This frustrating fact is made more enraging by the realization that this doesn’t have to happen. Politicians could support sensible gun safety legislation, but many of them are tied to organizations like the National Rifle Association, preventing them from doing just that. Instead, many consistently offer only their thoughts and prayers.
It feels like we’re stuck in an endless cycle of despair when it comes to these tragedies that the general public has little control over. But though it’s easy to feel helpless, this is a dangerous feeling that can keep change from happening. So if you want to make it change, what can you do? Below, we asked gun safety advocates share what you can do to help and how to protect your mental health in the process:
First, don’t let your anger fizzle out.
This feeling you have right now? Let it propel you in the weeks to come. Action is necessary all year round ― not just in the wake of a horrific shooting.
“I would tell folks that the frustration, the anger, the fear that they’re feeling that their kids’ school could be next, to hold on to it, as hard as it is, and channel it into pushing for lifesaving laws at the state level right now,” Adam Garber, the executive director of CeaseFire PA, a Pennsylvania group that advocates for gun violence prevention through legislation and community work, told HuffPost.
Though it can feel pressing to make donations and call your political representatives in the days immediately after a mass shooting, it’s important to keep that momentum going throughout the year.
Legislators constantly hear from a small minority of gun extremists, Garber added. But they “need to hear from us, and it can’t be just over the next three to four days, it needs to be … over the next 10 months, year, two years. It needs to be consistent to really get them to recognize that they should stop listening to the minority of their voters,” Garber said.
“The system is set up for incrementalism,” Watts told HuffPost, meaning that giant change is not going to happen overnight — even after a mass shooting. “Incrementalism is what leads to revolution.”
“You also have to commit to what I call the unglamorous heavy lifting of grassroots activism,” Watts said. “Even if you only have an hour a week ... every call, every email, every conversation you have adds up, and it makes a difference.”
Understand that mass shootings are just one part of the gun violence problem.
“I am grateful that people decide to get off the sidelines after a horrific shooting tragedy. I am so, so grateful,” Watts said. “But it’s important that they understand this is committing to the work of activism, and it’s also about looking at this issue holistically.”
Mass shootings and school shootings get a lot of publicity, but they are just 1% of the gun violence that happens in this country, according to Watts. In fact, 120 Americans are killed each day from guns, with an additional 200 per day injured, according to research from Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control.
“The everyday gun violence ... disproportionately impacts Black and brown Americans,” Watts said. And the everyday violence, which includes homicide, unintentional shootings, suicide and domestic gun violence, is largely carried out by handguns.
Volunteer with a gun safety organization in your state.
Gun regulations and legislation vary by state, which means what is going on with legislation in your area may be totally different for your friend 1,000 miles away.
Garber said it’s important to get involved with your statewide gun violence protection organization because of the knowledge they possess. “I think these groups really know what’s possible in the legislature in their state and really know those dynamics — what they need is people to hold that feeling and push with their legislators for these laws.”
If you don’t know where to find your state’s organization, Garber said that “there’s a loose network called States United to Prevent Gun Violence that ... on their website will list many of the state organizations.”
Additionally, many national groups have local branches that can help you figure out where your effort is best spent. For example, Moms Demand Action, Brady: United Against Gun Violence and Giffords all have chapters and events throughout the country.
For Moms Demand Action specifically, Watts said if you want to get involved, you can text READY to 64433 and a volunteer will call you with information on how you can get involved in your community.
Or connect with a local community violence intervention organization.
“There are a lot of partner organizations that we work with that are doing this work and have been, frankly, for decades with very little attention,” Watts said.
Specifically, Watts said this is true of community violence intervention groups, which are groups that aim to stop retaliatory gun violence before it can happen. “That is really difficult work that requires support and funding.”
So you can consider donating to or getting in touch with your community’s violence intervention group and asking what you can do to help. You can search for a local violence intervention group or even ask larger gun safety groups in your region who needs additional support locally.
Some examples include United Playaz in San Francisco; Action4Equity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Turning the Tide Violence Intervention Program in Charleston, South Carolina; the TraRon Center in Washington, D.C.; and Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance in Ohio.
Donate if you’re able to offer money.
These organizations need money to continue their lifesaving mission. “The public is the lifeblood of our work, so definitely donate if you can, but don’t stop there or, if you can’t donate, don’t stop there either way,” Garber said.
Donate to one of your community violence intervention groups or to one of the nationwide organizations that are working to end gun violence.
If you can afford it, you can set up a recurring monthly donation so you can keep the momentum going throughout the year.
Fight the narrative that guns make us safer.
Many people believe the myth that guns make us safer ― but the numbers show they do not. This misconception is a huge part of American gun culture, according to Nina Vinik, the founder of Project Unloaded, a gun violence prevention group.
“All of the research and evidence tell us that guns don’t make us more safe; they make us less safe,” Vinik told HuffPost. “Homes with guns have higher rates of suicide, of homicide ... and communities with more guns have higher rates of gun violence.”
Watts said the data shows that states with weaker gun laws have more gun violence and more gun death. States with stronger gun laws have less gun violence and fewer gun deaths.
“If we want to make laws based on data, which is the job of lawmakers … it’s how we reduce deaths in this country,” Watts said.
Call or write your local representative.
“I think writing to your local legislators is really critical, and calling them up,” Garber said.
You can find out who your local representatives are by searching Find My Legislator and adding your state name. Most states have a tool that you can use to see who represents you in Congress.
You can let your representatives know that you support strong gun laws and want change in your community and nationwide. Specifically, Garber said, you can inquire about important gun safety measures such as safe weapon storage, extreme-risk protection orders and reporting lost and stolen firearms.
“We don’t know everything yet about what happened in Nashville, but these are the kinds of things we know can prevent many of the acts of violence, and I think that is a good starting point,” Garber said.
Vote for candidates who support gun safety.
“We have an electoral cycle right around the corner,” Watts said.
When voting in any election, vote for candidates who back gun safety laws and vote out the ones who don’t. “We have to elect lawmakers who will act on this issue,” Watts added.
If you get involved, don’t forget to take care of yourself.
According to Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk, a primary care physician at One Medical in North Carolina, gun violence ― whether you experience it firsthand or hear about it on the news ― affects your body and mind.
“It might raise some emotion, like fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, but just know there’s no one way to respond to this sort of trauma,” Malchuk said.
When dealing with the reality of the gun violence epidemic in the U.S., it’s important to rely on the coping strategies that have helped you in other times of trouble, she said. This could mean avoiding the news after a certain time at night, leaning on a support system or journaling. Additionally, make sure you’re getting a good night’s sleep, eating nutritious food and drinking enough water, she said.
And if the emotions you feel start negatively affecting your daily life, it’s worth reaching out to a mental health professional. Therapists can help equip you with solid coping strategies and provide you with an outlet to talk about how you’re feeling. You can’t take action for others if you’re not taking action for yourself, too.
Don’t feel hopeless; it will lead to inaction.
“I think so often hopelessness is a function of not understanding the progress that’s been made,” Watts said. “I’m frustrated by hopelessness because it leads to cynicism, which is too often an excuse for inaction ― and that’s exactly what the gun lobby wants. They want us to feel like this is inevitable.”
Garber also said he thinks the intent is for us to feel like we don’t have any control over this.
“As long as we feel helpless, I think this is in politics in general, we give up our power in this moment,” he said. “So, the choice to feel hopeful, to be helpful, is a reclaiming of the power that we have as citizens, and reclaiming that power means that we can take action to save lives.”