Rev. Ciera Bates Chamberlain, executive director of Live Free Chicago-Live Free Illinois, and Ali H. Mokdad, chief strategy officer of population health at the University of Washington, discuss gun violence in the United States and around the world, and how religion leaders are responding. Tali Woodward, editor in chief of the Trace, moderated.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations Social Justice and Foreign Policy Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
Today’s webinar is on the record and it will be posted on our website, CFR’s website, CFR.org, and on our iTunes podcast channel, Religion and Foreign Policy. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
I’m delighted to introduce our distinguished panel and moderator. Ciera Bates-Chamberlain is the executive director of Live Free Chicago-Live Free Illinois, where she works with Black churches to create safe, economically viable, and self-sustained Black communities. Prior to this role, she served as the senior organizer at a faith-based organization. Reverend Bates-Chamberlain is an adjunct professor at Northeastern University, a mental health professional, and strategy consultant. She was ordained a minister through the Church of Jesus Christ House of Prayer, where she served as a church administrator for the Chicago congregation.
Ali Mokdad is a professor of health metric sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, and chief strategy officer for population health at the University of Washington. Prior to these roles, he worked at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Mokdad has published groundbreaking research on local level disease trends and leading risk factors for poor health. Dr. Mokdad has been cited in publications addressing gun violence around the world.
Tali Woodward will be moderating today’s conversation. She is the editor in chief of the Trace, which is the only newsroom dedicated to covering gun violence. We started late because we’re having a few technical issues. Tali is on the phone. You cannot see her, obviously. But we wanted to keep her in this conversation so she could have the conversation with our distinguished panelists, Dr. Mokdad and Reverend Bates-Chamberlain.
So we’ll do that for about twenty minutes—twenty-five minutes. And then we will turn to all of you for your questions. When we get to that point, you can click on the raise hand icon on your screen to say you want to ask a question. Please accept the unmute prompt, state your name and affiliation, followed by your question. You can also write your question in the Q&A feature in your Zoom window. But if you do that, please identify yourself so we can read that out loud. And it gives all of us context for who you are and your perspective.
So with that, I’m going to turn the conversation now to Tali Woodward. We look forward to this conversation. So, Tali, over to you.
WOODWARD: Hi. Thank you. And I’m sorry I can’t be on the video. There’s an internet outage where I live.
So I just wanted to sort of say, again, I’m editor in chief at the Trace, which is a nonprofit newsroom that covers gun violence specifically. We have a staff of about fifteen people, and we report on all aspects of gun violence, including investigations into the National Rifle Association, and local coverage in several places in the country, including Chicago.
So, Reverend Bates-Chamberlain, I wanted to sort of start with you and ask a question which I think is very kind of central to understanding gun violence in America. There’s so much attention on mass shootings and these kind of dramatic mass shootings in public places. But actually, statistically, most gun violence in America is not connected to any sort of mass shooting in a public place and is, instead, experienced in certain communities where it’s highly concentrated. And you obviously live in one of them in Chicago, I think the place that’s probably most associated with gun violence in the United States—though that’s not actually accurate, statistically. There are other places that have a much higher per capita incidence of gun violence. But I would love for you to kind of start us off telling us a little bit about what—how the epidemic of gun violence in America is really experienced in a community, from what you’ve seen.
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Sure. Thank you, again, for having me. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to have this conversation with you all today. And so, like you stated, I work in Illinois. I’m also a part of Live Free USA, who does this work nationally. But just sort of laying it out, oftentimes Chicago receives a lot of the attention as far as gun violence in Black and brown communities, but across the state of Illinois where there are low-income Black and brown communities there’s high concentration of violence. And like you were saying, there are other cities, such as East St. Louis, who actually has higher rates of violence in those smaller cities. But again, because they don’t have the volumes they don’t receive the same attention as Chicago.
But communities, specifically—I’m going to speak specifically to the Black community, because that’s a community I’m in proximity to. As folks are experiencing racism and poverty, gun violence is a symptom of—of a lack of resources and neglect to those communities and to our communities. So as we’re experiencing the other—the other issues of poverty and racism, gun violence is a product of the lack of resources and, quite frankly, just the care that our communities need.
WOODWARD: I think that’s really important context to add to this and framing, to think of gun violence as a symptom of a lot of other issues and problems we have in the United States. Can you say anything more sort of about how—what you’ve—it’s a symptom of racism and poverty, and then how do you see it sort of playing out when there is a shooting in your community?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Sadly, a lot of people have become desensitized to it. But then there are a lot of people in community who are trying to break the culture of normalizing violence. I think it’s a sad thing when you hear—even my six-year-old son can distinguish gunshots between firecrackers. So now when we—and it’s a web of trauma. And there’s a culture that has been created in our communities of when someone is shot and killed there may be a prayer vigil, but as soon as you’re dealing with one family there’s another family on the next block who has experienced this tragedy. So at this point, it has become an overwhelming issue because there are so many homicides.
We’re not even thinking about the shootings. There’s one person, Sean Malinowski, who would say the shootings are incomplete homicides. So a lot of times we’re talking about the shootings—the homicides, but we’re not even thinking about the number of shootings and the trauma that that creates. So where people are not able to send their kids to the park, grandmothers are not able to sit on their front porch because of the number of shootings. Then children are not able to receive the adequate care that they need to even address the trauma that they’re experiencing because they lost, already in high school, maybe a dozen friends to violence already. So violence and the trauma is now all around us. And like I said, many of our communities have become desensitized to it because we’ve normalized the violence in our communities. It has impacted—it has an impact, from babies to the elders.
WOODWARD: Mmm hmm. Yeah, I think that’s right. And I think there’s a lot of research that shows that and the effect it can have on children, these experiences in school and on community ties, and all kinds of things. So I feel like that’s a good opportunity to ask Dr. Mokdad if you can speak a little bit to sort of what is now understood about how gun violence occurs, and sort of thinking about it as a public health problem, which I think for some people is maybe a new concept to think of. I mean, I think people think about—I know you’ve worked—done some work on obesity, and people think of that as a public health issue. I think people obviously think of smoking as a public health issue. But I think it sometimes takes a little bit of a, like, change in frame to think of gun violence that way. Could you tell us sort of how you—how you think about that, and how someone new might want to think about it?
MOKDAD: Good morning and thank you for inviting me. And I totally agree with my colleague.
So let me frame it a little bit before I dive into why it is a public health issue. But let me frame gun violence in the United States, and how it compares to other countries. It’s very important for us to discuss this first. We do something at where I am, at the Institute, we do something called the “global burden of disease for every country in the world,” and for many countries at the sub-national level. In the U.S. we do it at the state level and the country level. And for many countries we can do it at the state—equivalent of a state. And then we monitor what kills, so what’s killing, injuries, of course, and then risk factors, but also what’s ailing the population. And here in the United States, when we talk about gun violence we count the number of people who have been killed by gun violence or people who committed suicide by a gun, but we don’t talk about what my colleague was talking about, is what’s the disability? What’s the impact? How is this ailing our society?
So when you look at the United States, we have the highest gun violence compared to any rich country in the world. So even the top rich country in the world, sixty-four countries in the world, we still are way ahead of them. Very few countries in the world, they happen to be in South America, unfortunately, have higher gun violence than we do have in the United States. And I totally agree with my colleague. We in the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, we do something called the Social Demographic Index, which is an index of education, income, and fertility under the age of twenty-five. So basically what she was talking about, what access the community has to better education and their health. And then we see a strong association between health performance and this Social Demographic Index. We call it here social determinants of health in the United States.
But why is gun violence in the U.S. a major health problem right now? It’s inflicting, of course, a lot of deaths, especially among young people, here. But also it’s causing a lot of disability in the United States, pressure on our medical centers. People who have been shot or have been exposed to a violent act, they will remember it for a long time. There is a mental health impact on this. And by the way, mental health in the United States, if you look at the highest state in the U.S. with gun violence, they don’t have the highest mental health levels in the U.S. So it’s the reverse. Gun violence will cause mental health [issues], but rarely mental health causes gun violence. So gun violence is something else that we need to address. It’s basically at the root of the social determinants of health in our community, and what resources are available to our communities.
WOODWARD: Thank you. That’s really helpful and helpful to get that sort of—the grand scheme of things. And I think it’s interesting that you pointed to something that we try to pay attention to at the Trace, which is that there are more people who are shot and survived than who are shot and die in the United States. Which means we have just this huge population of people who have had that experience in their lives, and whether that means they’re dealing with some sort of disability, or it is only the mental health impacts that they’re struggling with, or both. But it’s a big part—a big portion of our country at this point.
Can you give the—sort of the public health framework, can you say a little bit more about what it means to look at an issue like gun violence, that is, I think we could safely say, it’s multi-sectoral in terms of causes, and try to think about health interventions that would make a difference?
MOKDAD: Of course. I’m happy to. And here in the United States, by the way, gun violence especially—and we’ve published—I mean, this was published in an article—a scientific, peer-reviewed article. Gun violence here, or violence—police killing by guns here in the United States is underreported. So in a way, I’m not talking about gun violence—we’re not talking about police killing here. But again, I want you to keep in mind that gun violence sometimes is underreported here in the United States. So the problem that we are talking about, even when it comes from the police, is underreported. So keep that in mind.
Now, when it comes to how we could address this problem here in the U.S. and the violence in the United States, let me start at the root cause. We have a lot of disparities—health disparities in the United States. And these health disparities, including gun violence, have four main causes that we look at. And briefly allow me to explain that. The first one is socioeconomic factors. So people who are poor, people who are less educated. Let me give you an example. A woman who is educated, for example, is more likely to understand the sign of danger—health sign of danger, more likely to seek medical care, more likely to adhere to the medical message because she understands it. So socioeconomic factors are big factors in any health problem, including gun violence.
The second one, of course, here in the United States is our health insurance and underinsurance. And many Americans here, unfortunately, struggle from day to day to get the basic medical care. And we are the only rich country in the world that doesn’t have universal health care. Even somebody like me, who is a professor in the medical school, I have to be careful, and I have to make sure I have the medical insurance, and I have to make sure I know how to navigate the system.
The third one is access—quality of medical care. Here in the United States, not everybody has access to good quality medical care. And I mean not medical errors. I’m deviating a little bit about gun violence, but I want to explain disparity because it encompasses gun violence. It’s how late is a person coming to seek medical care? And once that person is in the medical care, how well he or she has been followed to make sure the medication or what they have received is doing exactly what—effective coverage. So if you have high blood pressure, if you have medication it’s going to reduce your blood pressure. The last one are risk factors such as obesity and diabetes.
So you come to gun violence, it’s mainly the first one. But the others are impacting, because people in the United States are struggling from day to day. And unfortunately, there is access to guns here in the U.S. One way to control it is, of course, control access to guns. Other countries have controlled alcohol, and successfully, outlets for alcohol. Making sure that alcohol bars cannot be next to each other, stop selling alcohol at a certain point of time. If you look, for example, the mayor of Cali in Colombia. He had the highest gun violence. He was a medical doctor. He controlled alcohol, and he’s seen a sharp decline in gun violence in his city. So there are ways that other countries have applied.
But in the United States, we run away from the main problem that we face—whether it is gun violence, whether it’s this disparity of our health—socioeconomic factors. We do not take care of our own population, and it takes a village, and we all—we cannot be safe until all of us are safe. We cannot be healthy until all of us are healthy. We cannot treat somebody different than another one. And until we address these issues this gun violence will then be here look at you. Over.
WOODWARD: So I understand what you’re saying, and it’s all very compelling. And I agree that all of the evidence shows that these things are interrelated. What would you say to someone who says: Well, that’s a huge list of things to address, and we’re never going to do that in the United States, for all kinds of political reasons? So how do we just—how do we effect gun violence?
MOKDAD: (Laughs.) Let me tell you my answer for that. We do something at the Institute called human capital. When you look at every country in the world—what we mean by human capital is ages twenty to sixty-four, this is your working force. How healthy and how educated they are? And this Human Capital Index is strongly associated with economic development. Look at South Korea, for example. I mean, they have invested in education and health by addressing these factors, socioeconomic status. Automatically look at their economy and how well they are doing. All countries—Singapore—all countries who invested in health and education and addressed disparities on the issues I’m talking about, they made more money, they were a rich country, and they made progress.
So my answer to somebody who’s telling me like this, all our problems in the U.S. when it comes to health, we spent in the United States $3.7 trillion on health. The whole world—the whole world spends eight trillion dollars. So we spent almost half of what the world is spending. And look where we are. Look at our outcomes. Any metric you look at—life expectancy, we’re forty-two in the world. Maternity mortality is higher than Lebanon when I was born. Lebanon is a country that has a civil war—came out of civil war. Maternal mortality in Lebanon is lower than maternal mortality in the United States.
So how do we address all these issues? We have to start—and we have to stop ignoring these issues. We have to take care of our own and have a social network to take care of our own people. Otherwise, you and I will be talking about this, my daughter and your daughter will be talking about this in twenty, thirty years, exactly the same. We have to act now. It’s time to act. We have the tools to address it. But we tend, unfortunately, in the United States to ignore it. And we don’t want to do that. It’s not expensive. I mean, listen—
WOODWARD: If you look at all of the other side of it, yeah.
MOKDAD: Yeah. I went to school. I paid for my education because it’s a good investment. I mean, it’s not wasted money. It’s a very good investment. It makes our country strong. It makes our economy better. We still compete everybody in the world. So, yes, we would pay money. You have to pay money to make money.
WOODWARD: Thank you.
Reverend Bates-Chamberlain, do you have anything that you want to add at this point? Connecting the two kind of aspects we’ve been talking about? The sort of community experience on the community level with public health approaches?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Yes. I actually—Dr. Ali provoked thought around a few things I would like to bring up. One, I want to bring up the conversations of mass shootings, and that was sort of in your first question. And how oftentimes—so, for example, in Illinois we had the Highland Park shooting, which was devastating. But the—as we were holding space for that, we were also holding space by realizing that mass shootings that happen in white communities see a lot of resources and support. In Black communities you see mass shootings every week, but there was no state of emergency declared till there was the Highland Park shooting. So I think even the way as we’re thinking about this how we’re able to acknowledge the disparities even in our responses.
I think the second piece I wanted to name, in continuing on the responses on how we feel in community when we talk about violence, when we talk about not having the violent means. And what typically happens is young Black men and women are oftentimes criminalized and not supported. But when there are shootings in other areas, it becomes a mental health conversation. And this isn’t only around gun violence. We’ve seen this between the opioid and the crack epidemic. So even how we’re—again, how we’re thinking about supporting communities so that we can end the violence.
And then the other piece of just adding to how we can impact gun violence so it begins to really work toward reducing it, because there are so many things that contribute to violence in our communities. But it really is—I heard a Ted Talk. And I forgot the speaker’s name, but she said something that stuck with me, basically saying that if my brain experienced what your brain experienced, I would act in the same ways that you act. And that stuck out to me because what our people are experiencing, meaning when people have seen their parents incarcerated, or they’re hungry because we don’t have access—well, we have food deserts, when we don’t have access to mental health facilities. And then when we do have some—when we’re connected to a mental health agency, you got to go through all type of loopholes even just to get services.
So access to things that people need just to survive when those things are taken away, this is the response that you typically get. But there are remedies for it. So even just being able to say that we’re going to make sure that communities receive services in resources and that they’re equitably distributed and allocated in communities, ensuring that governments aren’t coordinating these strategies. So the governments need to have things in place, such as offices of gun violence prevention, where they’re pulling all of the resources and the stakeholders together and they’re coordinating public health strategies. And then where we’re also making sure that there are good policies that’s put in place that speak to the surviving community, as well as the inner city.
MOKDAD: May I add something to what the reverend just said? I totally agree with her, but I want to give you a very specific example to make her point. Look at COVID-19. We have a pandemic in the United States. Mortality among African American, Hispanics, and Native American was much higher than white. We looked at it, and it’s among the younger age group. It’s not among the elderly. Among the younger age group in Hispanic, younger age group in African American. We failed in the U.S. to protect our essential workers. I mean, these people went out, kept food on our table, kept our country running while the rich people—I mean, look at us. We’re on Zoom, we can do all our work—I can work from home. These guys couldn’t work from home because their jobs required them to be out and about.
We failed to protect them. And we knew all along that we needed to protect them. Give them a mask, give them a suit, let them wear what they need to do, gear to protect themselves. We failed. Only we started talking about it in the U.S.—we know from scientific—from public health, we knew that is going to happen. We only started talking about when all over the media was, like, a meat packing—pork meat packing somewhere in the Midwest shutting down because there was a lot of infections. And people were afraid, oh my God, I’m not going to have my steak right now. This is exactly what we are talking about.
WOODWARD: Well, thank you very much. Do we want to—I think we’re supposed to open it up to questions at this point. Irina, are you taking over, or someone else?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Can I make one more comment, just to follow Dr. Ali?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Because when we think about the COVID-19 response, and knowing the—in Chicago the Black community was hit hardest by COVID-19, because of many of the reasons why he named. But when we look at the investment in COVID response, everybody had a role and there was a significant investment. And that needs to happen with violence prevention. There needs to be—the city needs to coordinate their response with all of the stakeholders. There needs to be a narrative change where people are educated on the issue. When we did COVID-19, a five-year-old knew how they can help to reduce the curve because they could wash their hands. And other people had a role. So we all realized that it took everyone. Everyone is impacted by COVID-19, and everybody had a role in reducing it. And that is exactly what we need to do with gun violence.
WOODWARD: Very good point.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Tali, this is Irina. We are going to go to questions now.
WOODWARD: OK, great. Thank you.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
Our first question comes from Barbara McBee from Soka Gakkai International-USA. She writes: Regardless of access, Black people are overwhelmingly killed by police. Mass shooters seem to be overwhelmingly white. How do we change this or engage in the conversation to make things—to make changes in fundamental attitudes?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: So I can go. So just naming that police violence is gun violence. I think we need to always mention that we’re naming that. But it goes back to narrative change, what I named earlier. There’s this—and if I can hear the question correctly—yes, oftentimes we do see, like, the mass shooters often are not only White, they’re White men that are oftentimes the mass shooters. But in community there’s a different narrative that is put out. And we have to address the narrative and the need. And it goes back to criminalizing Black communities. And so people have to be—and this is where even the faith community can step in. This is about being in relationship. This is about making sure that we’re teaching people in community around these false narratives and how they’re portrayed, and even teaching folks around—if there’s a lack of understanding around police violence and the statistics. We all have a role in being sure that we’re educating people in our congregations, in our various social circles, so that people—so that we can collectively begin to change that narrative.
MOKDAD: I mean, I totally agree. But racism is a public health issue. We do, in this country we measure racism. Right now we say African Americans are more likely to be killed than white or et cetera. Until we measure—we know, for example, cigarette smoking will increase your lung cancer risk. And we have a number, a relative risk for that. We need to measure racism in this country. And we need to do a better job of saying what racism is causing in this country. It’s the root cause of a lot of problems in the U.S. And until we address it and we speak about it, and being quiet right now is not acceptable.
FASKIANOS: Great. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Reverend Curtiss DeYoung from the Minnesota Council on Churches.
He writes specifically to Reverend Bates-Chamberlain, and asks: Can you speak to how state-sponsored police violence against Black people intersects with gun violence in Black communities? I know you have addressed both concerns.
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Yes. Thank you, Dr. DeYoung. So, yeah, I think when we’re specifically talking about—and a lot of our work—I would like to name that a lot of our work is at the intersection of public safety and criminal justice reform, because you can’t reduce gun violence without addressing police violence, mass incarceration. All of those three work together. But specifically at the intersection of state-sanctioned violence, what seems to happen is—because when we’re talking about violence prevention, we also have to begin to bring in the conversations clearance rates.
So if you’re in community, and although a public health approach means that we don’t have a carceral or law enforcement-centered approach, but we know that law enforcement—that they’re in the equation. But when you have police continuing to abuse and terrorize Black communities, that breaks down the ability, one, for communities to feel protected and served. That also breaks down the barriers of people actually using the justice system as a—as a means towards justice. So oftentimes people will take justice in their own hands because there is no entity that they can go to that is trusted to help to bring justice to their loved ones. So they almost in some ways can say that there is an increase because there is a lack of police legitimacy and trust.
FASKIANOS: Great. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Homi Gandhi from the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.
He writes: In the USA, there’s a constitutional right to bear arms. Where is the right for people who do not want to own arms, but want to live in peace?
FASKIANOS: I don’t know who wants to take that. Ciera.
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Where—let me reframe—you said, where is the constitutional right for those who don’t want to bear arms and who want to live in peace?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: Uh-huh. So I’m with you. I am not an advocate of—there are so many guns in our communities. I feel like the Constitution in itself was written by racist white men, who were slave owners. And so that we need to completely rethink the Constitution in many ways. And I said it that bluntly because, I mean, we’re dealing with so much in our country. I mean, we just had Roe v. Wade overturned. There are so many things that rebuilding it—so, and it even comes down to the right to bear arms. I feel like I have a right to live, and my children have a right to live. So that is something that I can’t explain outside of—I completely agree with you. And I do not believe that assault rifles in our—people being able to legally buy assault rifles when you can’t even use an assault rifle to go hunting, it makes no sense. So there is—there is a wickedness that exists in this country when the right to bear arms is more important than one’s right to live.
MOKDAD: We call it in public health competing morbidity. And let me explain it. So say you have obesity as a problem. And it’s causing blood pressure. And you say, I don’t address obesity. I’m going to find a pill for blood pressure and give people a pill for blood pressure. We will lower blood pressure in the community. Diabetes will go on. Another morbidity will go on, because obesity is causing another morbidity. You come and find a pill for diabetes and cure diabetes, then heart diseases will come up. So it comes down to basically you have to address the root cause. There is a root cause here that you have to address it.
And I agree with you. We have the right to live in peace. We have the right to have access to medical care. We have a right to feel equal to anybody else in my society. I have the right to, when I go to a medical center I’m treated exactly the same, irrespective of how I look, whether I have an accent or not, tall, short, ugly, beautiful, whatever. In my case, it’s ugly. So that’s what we need to do in the United States. Unless we address the root causes of the problem, the social justice and social determinants of health, we’re going to have millions of problems, not only gun violence. And by addressing these root causes, we’re going to make our country much better.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Steven Denker from Temple Kol Ami.
He asks: Can our speakers address the second half of our webinar’s title, “and Abroad”? Gun Violence at Home and Abroad.
MOKDAD: So gun violence abroad, I said in South America and El Salvador—for example, El Salvador, is much higher than what’s here in the United States. And the reason we believe, from our data, is drug trafficking parts of it. But also in many countries in South American where gun violence is higher, parts of Mexico as well, is exactly the same issues that we are talking about, the social justice and social determinants of health, where people don’t have access to a lot of resources that they need, the basic needs that are a human right.
Now, let’s look at our peers in the world, countries that are exactly the same. The big news lately was the assassination of the ex-prime minister in Japan. And the guy who used a gun, a homemade gun. Couldn’t—you can’t buy a gun. In Japan, for example, to get a gun it’s very difficult, and to own a gun is very difficult. But you look at the culture in Japan, where the system provides everything to the country. You look at Europe, for example. Take Germany, France. Germany, for example, college education is free, healthcare is free. People like you and I don’t worry about our retirement, will we have enough to pay for our medical bill? Don’t worry about a fund to educate our children. Everything has been provided. People are happier. They’re more productive.
So when you look at what’s happening globally, there are experiments that are going on at the global level. And in the United States, we tend to ignore what’s happening around us. And when we look at our peers and we see what they have done to control gun violence—look, for example, in Australia. You could—you want to own a gun in Australia? It’s a large country. You want to use it for hunting. By all means, they’ll allow you. But they’re very strict. You have to have a safe to have it. The bullets have to be stored somewhere else. And they do routine checkup. They knock on—they have the right to knock on your door and say: I want to check to see how you are keeping your gun? This is your license. We want to check on that.
So if people in the United States want to bear arms, fine. But let’s make sure that we do it right. We make sure that people who have access to guns have been run through screening, they store it correctly. And, yes, if they use it incorrectly, there is a penalty. And guns should be taken away from a lot of people if this happens. So unfortunately, we don’t do what other countries have done in the United States in order to prevent that epidemic.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Myles Caggins III from the Council on Foreign Relations.
He asks: Perhaps my view is contrarian. As unacceptable as police shootings are, they are not in the top fifty causes of death for Black people. Can faith communities have a stronger role in teaching interpersonal skills and conflict resolution for young people, following the New Testament and the Qur’an guidance about peace and love?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: I would say that, yes, congregations can definitely teach restorative justice practices. But I would think that it’s sort of easy for us to fall into—as faith leaders—to fall into this very comfortable space of sticking with, “let’s change you.” And although, yes, gun violence is the number-one killer of Black men, I think what myself and Dr. Ali have continued to push that this is systemic. So we can continue to slap Band-Aid issues on this situation, but until we get to the root of it—it’s almost like the story of the river babies. We have to make sure that we’re going up the river and finding out why this is happening. And we’ve already found out why this is happening.
It's happening because of the lack of resources, because of racism, because of poverty. So as faith leaders, it is our job to hold both. We have to address the systems. We have to hold elected officials accountable. We have to make sure that people in communities have what they need in order to survive. And then we can also have those conversations on how to have better interpersonal skills and how to integrate RJ principles into their daily lives.
MOKDAD: Even—I mean, even if it’s not the leading cause of death—let’s say the leading cause of death is heart disease or cardiovascular diseases. The root cause is cardiovascular disease and heart diseases are basically what we’re talking about. Access to medical care. We tell people to prevent obesity and prevent diabetes, it’s fresh fruits and vegetables. With food desert in Chicago, I mean, I did some big project in Chicago for food deserts. How could you access fresh fruits and vegetables? Like, can you afford it?
I mean, a woman at the end of the day at 7:00 feeding her children, the store at the corner has junk food that she can feed her children and we move on. She worked all day. She doesn’t have a car to go to a fresh market to get—to a market to get fresh fruits and vegetables. All of these issues that we are talking about not only improve and reduce gun violence in the United States, but cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, you name it, cancer in the United States. These issues are causing a lot of problem in the U.S., and we need to address them.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Before we take the next question, I just wanted to throw back to Tali to ask if you had any additional questions or if you had some stats that you might want to add to the conversation, given your reporting on this issue?
WOODWARD: Well, I mean, so the only thing I would add is really sort of, like, a little bit more detail about the distinctions between sort of race or gun violence in the United States and other parts of the world. And one thing that we haven’t mentioned specifically today is gun suicide, which is the cause of more than half of the gun deaths in America and an area in which the U.S. really stands as an outlier. So I just think that that’s important.
The U.S. has, I think, about 4 percent of the global population, but at third of the globe’s firearm suicides. So really a huge distinction there. And I think that that’s also just worth mentioning, because—particularly because we’ve done some reporting over the past year about how youth suicide is on the rise in America, and particularly Black and brown youth suicide. So I think it’s just an element of the landscape to be aware of. But I’ve definitely learned a lot today, and really enjoyed doing this, and thanks for giving me the opportunity.
FASKIANOS: Tali, just one question to follow up before we take the next question. Has that—has the rate of suicide gone up since the pandemic? Or is it the same?
WOODWARD: Yes, and specifically the—suicides have increased, I think, very slightly. But the percentage that are committed with a firearm has increased more significantly since the pandemic began.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. All right, we’ll take the next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Rabbi Nadya Gross of Yerusha.
She writes: Many listeners today, like myself, are spiritual leaders and congregational leaders and teachers who are confronted daily with immense unmet needs, wounds, and hopelessness. It’s all we can do to keep our heads above waters of despair. What can our presenters offer as necessary first steps to addressing the root causes of gun violence?
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: So before I answer that, I just want to read this quick quote. Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara. Pretty sure you all are familiar with him when he says, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint. But when I ask the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.” And so as we begin to think about addressing the root causes of this, first, I would say there is a community—a faith-based community organizing group. I would connect with them and find out what they’re doing around gun violence. I would also connect with the street outreach agencies in your community to learn how you can support the on-the-groundwork, as well as support a lot of the policy work.
There’s so much—because this issue is really growing and it’s urgent—there’s so much work that’s happening across the country right now where you can connect to it. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can engage with organizations like mine, Live Free Illinois or Live Free USA, and find out how you can engage on both sides of the fight. Meaning, on one end we do need congregations or places of worship leading night walks. But then we also need faith leaders leading meetings with their elected officials and holding them accountable around resources and moving from carceral and law enforcement approaches and moving more into public safety approach—public health approaches. So I would say again, get connected to the organizations on the ground that are doing the work, because we need your help.
MOKDAD: And I will—I totally agree. And of course, the government—I’m not talking about the government. Support groups like this one working on such things and make sure that we pass success stories along. And make sure that we don’t repeat mistake. If we tried something and it didn’t work, let’s not repeat it somewhere else. So have a network that we can share this—what’s working, what’s not. But again, I go back to the main root cause here. I would love for us in the United States to have free college, free health care. That will take a lot of pressure from many people in this country and will help with a lot of problems, including gun violence.
Just look at what the Europeans are doing. Look what Australia is doing. Look what Canada is doing. Look at everywhere else. We need to follow what people are doing. Your health care should be provided for free. You shouldn’t struggle, or get broke, and then find—lose your home because you had an illness. And of course, you shouldn’t be struggling in order to get your kids in college and give them a better future. Once everybody in this country see a better future and know they can get there, many of the problems that we are talking about will disappear.
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: And if I can just add one more thing: If we think about, like, even the community—the beloved community that we’re working toward building, I hear so many times, whether they are fourteen-, fifteen-, or sixteen-year-olds who are sometimes the ones who are the perpetrators of gun violence. These are babies. I have a fourteen-year-old, I have a twelve-year-old, a six-year-old. So I can’t imagine my kid being engaged in these type of activities. However, it is happening. So when we see—when we know that there are currently eight-year-olds who in maybe five to six years are going to be engaged in some of these activities, like, we need to be advocating for our kids now.
Because oftentimes there are risk factors, there are things that we see right now in third grade classrooms, and fourth grade classrooms. So we can predict how many kids are going to be in prison from a third grade classroom. Then we need to be thinking about how can we support our kids now? And when elected officials come to your pulpit or when they come to your places of worship, we need to make sure that we’re holding them accountable to those type of ideas and not allowing them to put fear into our people to be afraid of our kids. So even in that, like, holding elected officials accountable to narratives, and really holding them to making sure that they’re investing in our kids and not criminalizing our youth.
FASKIANOS: Great. Do we have one last question?
OPERATOR: Our final question comes from Eliana Genatt from the Council on Foreign Relations.
What do each of you think about the recently passed Safer Communities Act? What aspects of the act will you expect will best reduce gun violence, if you believe any will? Additionally, rules regarding background checks are notably left out of the legislation. What will it take to enact stricter background checks for gun purchases?
FASKIANOS: Who would like to go first? And if you want to make any closing remarks, because we’re nearing the end of our time, that would be great too.
BATES-CHAMBERLAIN: So I think the piece that—and a lot of my comrades fought for this—was the $250 million mental health funding. Although there were some other laws around boyfriend loopholes, enhancing background checks. And there were some other laws that would address gun trafficking that was included into that legislation. But again, I think the most important piece was the investment in mental health, because that money will be able to be used by those who are lifting up CBI strategies, community violence intervention strategies.
And so I think that is the—something that we’re excited about, because we understand that gun policy is important. But like we’ve been naming, it is so important that people are receiving the resources and help to actually intervene in the violence, and receive some of the trauma and mental health support that’s needed for people to either begin to heal from being survivors or victims of gun violence. And also service those individuals who may need the mental health support so that they can get out of the lifestyle that’s perpetrating gun violence.
And I would say that my closing remarks—and I’m going to speak specifically to the faith community—and encourage us, Micah 6:8, that walk humbly before God, that we love mercy, that we love charity, that we do justice. And even in the space of gun violence that, again, oftentimes we are warning to things that are mercy and charity and ways that we can do book bag giveaways, or even the ways that we can hold prayer vigils. But it is so important that we be reminded to actually do justice, because that is going to be the thing that is going to end violence and address the root causes of violence in our neighborhoods.
MOKDAD: It is a step in the right direction. I’m happy to see it. But certain issues that in the United States unfortunately, even when we have good intentions to do, we don’t provide the right support in order to get it done. So let’s talk about it. For example, in it is domestic violence. If you look at rich people here in the United States when they have a problem, husband and wife, lawyers will settle it. When poor people have a problem, they call the police. And the police is not trying to deal with these issues. A social worker should come. So many times here in the United States many of the solutions that we say you should do it, we don’t think about, OK, who’s going to do it? Is he or she trained to do it? Is that agency trained to do that and deal with that? So it’s a good start and I’m happy to see it.
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. Well, thank you to all of you for today’s stimulating conversation. We really appreciate it.
We encourage you to follow Reverend Ciera Bates-Chamberlain on Twitter at @revciera, and Dr. Mokdad’s work at @AliHMokdad. And you can also follow Ms. Woodward at @taliwoodward. Again, I apologize for the technical difficulties, but thank you, Tali, for your stimulating questions and to all of you for your questions and comments. We encourage you to follow CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Program on Twitter at @cfr_religion for announcements about upcoming events and information about the latest CFR resources. And of course, please do email us. Send an email to [email protected] with any suggestions or questions.
Thank you all, again. We look forward to continuing our conversation in this webinar series in the coming weeks. So thank you all.