Reframing the Narrative: Businesses and Gun Violence

When nonprofit leaders are asked what businesses can do to stop the cycles of violence in Chicago, their answers often reflect a philanthropic or civic duty model: an urgent need for inclusive economic opportunities, a call for more resources to fund existing programs, and ways in which businesses can engage and support non-traditional job applicants. I wholeheartedly agree.

But I believe a critical component of what businesses must do to be part of the solution was overlooked. Namely, to recognize that businesses have a real stake in ending gun violence that goes beyond a philanthropic interest. 

The stakes may vary but extend beyond an act of charity: how Chicago’s reputation impacts recruitment and retention of businesses and talent; the wellbeing and productivity of employees and families; the opportunity costs associated with squandering the talent and ingenuity of those impacted by or at risk of violence; and the healthcare and incarceration expenditures that drain public resources that could be used for infrastructure, education and public good.  

And a growing body of research is establishing the connection between gun violence and a city’s overall economic health. Call it enlightened self-interest or simply an alignment of interests, but violence reduction should be an integral part of regional business planning. Of course, many businesses and their employees care deeply about this issue on a human level, as evidenced by volunteer hours, employee giving programs and civic engagement.

But if businesses see their role in ending gun violence solely as an act of charity, I am afraid we will not move the needle on the economic and employment parts of the equation. Chicago experiences more gun violence than Los Angeles and New York City combined, and is the only one of those cities losing, rather than gaining, population. With a gun violence rate six times that of New York City, it is time for business leaders to incorporate gun violence reduction as an essential part of their policy platform, extending well beyond concerns about downtown public safety, but rather as a strategic component of economic development, talent pipeline investment and regional marketing. We may be a collection of neighborhoods, but for Chicago to truly thrive, businesses need to view gun violence from a “one city” lens. 

We know there are multiple drivers of gun violence and that we cannot “police” our way out of this problem. That is why Strides for Peace, which works to empower nonprofits dedicated to ending gun violence and foster collaboration, was grateful and gratified that our 2018 Race Against Gun Violence engaged an unprecedented range of people and organizations. In addition to 42 nonprofits from throughout Chicago, 36% of attendees were from Chicagoland’s wealthiest zip codes and 34% from the poorest. Likewise, our Civic Partners, which included the Chicago Center for Youth Violence Prevention, Crime Lab, Chicago CRED, the Negaunee Institute of the CSO and the Wu-Tang Foundation extended beyond entities traditionally focused on gun violence to include Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and World Business Chicago. Certainly, these organizations differ in how they view gun violence. But by agreeing to be part of the race, they signaled a commitment to collaboration, and introduced a new platform for their members and stakeholders to learn more about the issue and choose whether and how to get involved.  

In the big scheme of things, it is a small step. But it is a first step that I hope will lead to more engagement and greater recognition of the interests businesses and nonprofits share in common. In fact, people and organizations are working together to stop gun violence every day, and these efforts and stories need to be amplified to demonstrate what is possible when the focus is on what we share in common, not what drives us apart. 

After all, even if we don’t agree on everything, we can all agree we want the shooting to stop — a good place to start.

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