I am working on a macro analysis project for a course in my social work program. There is a huge problem of firearms kept in the home unlocked and loaded in an area of the city I live in. My topic is unrestricted access to firearms and related violence (accidental deaths, theft of firearms, criminal misuse). I want to implement a public awareness campaign to educate members of the community on firearm safety and how to properly store their firearms. I want my intervention to be primarily based on education through mass media, but I also think starting a petition and drafting a new bill that requires firearm owners to safely store their firearms is important. I'm not sure that this component can be added into my awareness campaign though. Is it too much to plan and carry out? Should I just focus on public education and not creating systematic change?
Thanks for reaching out – we love it when students use classroom assignments to produce real-world benefit for their communities, and it sounds like that’s the path you are on. We appreciate it and will support you however we can.
In terms of your question, you’re never going to hear us advise against systems-level change. Changes to policies, procedures, settings, and regulations [the outer ring of the Social-Ecological Model] have the best chance to address the root of the issue (in your case, firearms that are incorrectly stored and lead to accidental death and injury) for the broadest amount of people (your community). However, as you indicated in your question, it’s not an easy place to start. Plus, from experience we know that policy change, whether at the local, state, or national level takes time – and from your email, it sounds like this issue needs attention now.
I’d advise you to develop a framework/model of change for what you want to see happen in your community around firearms. This process can help you link your two ideas, public education and policy change, under one larger effort. In this case, your awareness campaign would have two purposes: education that hopes to produce behavior change in gun owners, and growing public awareness of the issue in order to build support for introducing such a bill.
As you’re undertaking this project, we encourage you to bring in other partners in your community. These can include those organizations that may be working on this issue already, those that may naturally align on your side (e.g. public safety organizations, religious communities) but who maybe haven’t taken up the cause yet, as well as community leaders and residents. Creating a diverse stakeholder group can be a make-or-break for community interventions. Don’t forget about the gun owners themselves – before designing a public education campaign, it may be worth doing a focus group or some non-participant observations around current firearm storage behavior. That way you really understand the roots of the problem behavior, and can design a campaign that speaks directly to those you are trying to reach.
It sounds like you already have a handle on the community-level indicators (accidental death, theft of firearms, criminal misuse) that are by-products of unsafe firearm storage. I encourage you (and your partners) to both use that data in your public awareness campaign, as well as to monitor your progress throughout the stages of your work.
Thank you for all you are doing to make your community safer!