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Expand your thinking to match the scope of the problem

An artist's appeal to fight American gun violence

by Maureen Cain.

Albuquerque, NM. Site where a man was shot and killed by an employee while trying to rob a Dairy Queen. August, 2014

My observations and calls to action for fighting gun violence in the U.S. come from the perspective of an artist; they are not grounded in academic research or public policy, but in years of photographing 100+ sites of gun violence and in talking to Americans affected by shootings of all kinds. I've become a reluctant expert on gun violence and gun culture since a box of 1,000 rounds of ammunition was mistakenly delivered to my address outside of Seattle. When I speak about gun violence and my national art project that I call United States of Ammunition, I tell people what I've learned and offer these suggestions:

1. Expand your thinking to match the scope of the problem. Never in the history of humanity -- at any time, in any culture, in any place -- have we seen this specific problem. It's massive, it's complex, it's ingrained and it's not going away any time soon. This means we need all of the solutions, including the ones we haven't even thought of yet. Expand your thinking because the problem is bigger than most of us realize and we need your brain power to help solve it.

Bozeman, Montana. Near the site of a homicide-suicide. Mar 2019

2. Expand how you look at gun violence. It's human nature to turn away from things that are ugly and scary, but we have to be able to look at a problem in order to solve it. So, yes, I intentionally make pretty pictures about gun violence in hopes that it will help people take a closer look. I recommend looking at gun violence in your city, in your neighborhood and on your street. One way to do this is to search the Gun Violence Archive database and look at the map of local shootings. Expand how you look at gun violence because even if we don't want to see it, it's right in front of our eyes.

El Paso, Texas. At the Walmart where a shooter killed 22 people and injured 24 others. Aug 2019

3. Expand where you talk about gun violence. Gun violence touches every aspect of our lives; we need to match its ubiquity by talking about it everywhere. You don't have to have the answers, but you can be the person who brings up the issue of guns, gun safety and gun violence prevention everywhere you go. Bring in an expert if you need to and put the topic on every agenda: professional conferences, book club, condo association meetings, religious gatherings, staff meetings, neighborhood get-togethers, school board meetings, family dinners. Expand where you talk about guns because nowhere is safe from gun violence.

Gilroy, CA. Gilroy Garlic Festival where a gunman killed three people and wounded 17 others. July 2019

4. Expand your care for survivors. Every American has either been directly affected by gun violence or they know someone who has. This means millions of our co-workers, neighbors, friends, family members and community members are living with trauma and fear. Support organizations that provide services for survivors -- Everytown Survivor Network is a good place to start. Check in with the person you know who is a survivor and keep checking in because the pain, grief and fear stick around for years. Gun violence affects some communities more than others, so this also means recognizing the intersection of racism and gun violence. Expand your empathy and understanding for survivors because we're in this together.

Ferguson, Missouri. Site where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer. Aug 2014

5. Expand your actions. We didn't ask for the American gun violence epidemic, but here we are. If you're already taking action, thank you. If you're not involved yet, fortunately-unfortunately, there are lots of organizations that offer concrete solutions to gun violence. Send them money. Sign up for their newsletters. Follow them on social media. Show up at their events. One of my favorite activist organizations is Moms Demand Action. These fierce women know how to get it done. There's a chapter in your state or city. Join them and learn how to expand your actions.

Maureen Cain

Artist & Speaker

Gun violence data from Gun Violence Archive.

You can view more photos at United States of Ammunition.

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