Advocacy Spotlight: Gun Violence Prevention

Gun violence is such an overwhelming issue in our nation, it can be paralyzing to think about. How can you as one parent, or even as one PTA unit, make a difference? Thankfully, there are PTAs who have been paving the way, and we had the chance to talk with three representatives from Mercer Island PTA, Lori Cohen-Sanford, Erin Gurney, and Gwen Loosmore.

Mercer Island PTA has been advocating for gun violence prevention since 2018. They shared with us their lessons learned and advice for like-minded groups.

What do families need to know about gun violence and gun violence prevention?

Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for youth in our country. Over half of those gun deaths are suicides. Everyone has a role in gun violence prevention. If families do own guns, they need to make sure they are safely stored. Families need to feel comfortable asking if there are guns in the home, when their children go for a playdate– just like they would share about any allergies or ask about pets or swimming pool safety.

What strategies have you found most effective when advocating for gun violence prevention?

It’s crucial to know your platform. Familiarize yourself with National PTA’s position statement. Mercer Island PTA has made a habit of laminating them and bringing them everywhere!

Don’t forget that PTA is an advocacy association. We speak on behalf of all children ESPECIALLY on behalf of children’s safety. We have the authority as PTA members to advocate for these positions. It’s helpful to have or establish a state platform, as well. We have found that parents want to act, so it’s helpful to give them something to do – specific bills to support, newsletters to read, encouragement to ask about guns in the home at playdates, etc. We really say that we are doing the advocacy work one conversation at a time. It’s also important to remember that every parent wants the violence to stop. There is a lot of common ground and we need to normalize the conversation around firearms in our society.

What advice do you have for PTAs who want to make gun violence prevention a higher priority in their school, district or state?

Talking about gun violence can make a lot of people nervous because it’s become a political issue in our country and we don’t want our schools to become split by political divides. The challenge here is to remind people that PTA is an advocacy organization and we’re advocating for student safety. What we are trying to do is change the culture in how we talk about gun violence prevention. Even gun owners are supportive of a lot of these measures.

Find like-minded parents and get organized. Consider going to non-PTA gun violence prevention organizations, like the Brady Campaign or Moms Demand, to find other local parents who share your passion.

Overcommunicate. If your leadership is concerned keep them informed of everything you’re doing, before you do it, share why, and how it falls into National PTA’s mission. National PTA already has a position statement on gun violence, and a website on family resources for school safety and questions you can start with that you KNOW falls within what PTA has authorized – start there!

Every community, every PTA, every individual has a specific set of experiences and what works for Mercer Island PTA might not everywhere. However, what is absolutely universal is people need to feel empowered and they need to know that they have the power to create change if they bring themselves together around this issue.

Curious how you can talk to your kids about these issues? Tune in to our podcast, Notes from the Backpack, to hear Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez share tips on talking to your children about gun violence in developmentally appropriate ways!