The Challenge: Epidemic levels of gun violence in California

In the early 1990’s, violence against children and youth, largely fueled by easy access to lethal weapons, had reached epidemic levels in California: It was against this backdrop that The California Wellness Foundation invested in a groundbreaking public health approach to preventing gun violence.

The Campaigns:

As a part of The California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Initiative, in 1994 the Foundation launched several public education campaigns to inform policymakers, media, community leaders and the general public about the devastating effects of gun violence.

  • Prevent Handgun Violence Against Kids Launched in 1994, this campaign focused on educating the public on the facts and policy options to address epidemic levels of gun violence.
  • Youth Want to Know This related campaign was initiated in 1996 to engage youth voices in policy advocacy around gun violence prevention.
  • Communities on the MoveIn partnership with Legal Community Against Violence (now Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence), this campaign began in 1996 and encouraged the adoption of local ordinances to reduce gun violence.

The Results:

New Gun Laws
California state and local policymakers passed new and far–reaching gun laws, including:

  • Ban on the sale and manufacture of Saturday Night Specials
  • Limit on frequency of handgun purchases to one per month
  • Trigger locks on all firearms sold in state
  • Increased regulation and oversight of gun shows
  • Ban of sale and manufacture of large-caliber rifles

Youth Leadership
Youth, particularly in communities most affected by gun violence, became powerful leaders in the effort. Using engagement tools specifically created for youth, community leaders engaged young people to write letters, collect petitions, participate in press conferences and testify at hearings in city councils and in Sacramento.

Shift in Media Coverage
The key messages of the campaign became the commonly-used language and frame in the gun control debate, demonstrated by a significant shift in the tone of media coverage. The campaign’s sound bites were picked up by policymakers as well.

The Approach:

Use social math to create strong central messages
Polling and focus groups were conducted to develop compelling fact-based messages for campaign materials, including several TV ad spots. The messages “handguns are the number one killer of kids in California” and “there are more gun dealers than McDonald’s” resonated with the public and policymakers, and were repeated by the media, ultimately supporting the passage of common sense policies to reduce access to guns.

Focus on policymakers and community leaders
State and local policymakers and stakeholders, including law enforcement, public health, educators and community-based organizations were regularly sent mailings with factsheets, policy options, case studies, and polling data.

Engage youth in advocacy
A critical component of the campaigns was to involve youth in every step of process. For example, focus groups of youth helped create tailored messages and materials which would allow youth themselves to become advocates for policies to prevent gun violence.