Yes, Gun Violence is a Workplace Conversation — And a Call to Action
by Xavier Ramey and Kelsie Harriman
Seventeen people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, February 14, 2018. Country-wide responses have been mixed: Despair and anger.Prayers and condolences. Calls for tougher guns laws. Speechlessness.
Injustice demands a response, and those responses matter.
The stance that one assumes in the face of tragedy matters.
The words that one speaks — or doesn’t — in the face of suffering matters.
The actions that one chooses — or doesn’t — in and through their grieving matters.
But until injustice calls us outside of ourselves and into a broader community, we have little capacity to affect change. Corporations, foundations, and nonprofits have a unique role to play in acknowledging our country’s collective grief and creating spaces for reflection and action.
As a matter of civic responsibility, organizations need to make time and space for their employees to process the events that happened in Florida, as well as the many similarly horrific instances that preceded it. Doing nothing in the face of tragedy can lower employee morale, turn the workplace into a transactional space, and marginalize workers who may feel already excluded. Ultimatley, it is our job to understand, discuss, and consider the forces that cause, support, and sustain injustice, in order that we may begin working toward a solution.
The number of mass shootings and the number of guns in a country are directly correlated. This remains true after accounting for racial divisions, immigration, baseline levels of violence, lack of mental health care, and use of violent video games.
Across the world, the United States, Guatemala, and Mexico are the only three countries that provide a individuals a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and in Florida, you can get a gun without a license or permit.
The correlation between mental illness and violence is not strong, but it exists, and limited gun sales to people with mental illness could help reduce mass shootings. However, research suggests that banning assault weapons, semiautomatic weapons, and high-capacity magazines is more effective.
Discussing this issues such as Florida in the workplace can be challenging and politically charged, and it will require the guidance of a knowledgeable and sensitive facilitator. Look for people within your organization to guide the conversation who have strong empathetic skills, a nuanced and heightened EQ, and good rapport with many employees. Seek outside resources if needed.
Organizations with a diverse employee base in particular are going to have to balance the concerns of multiple and often conflicting viewpoints. For example, an individual from rural America is likely to understand and experience gun use and gun violence quite differently than an individual from an urban environment. An organization that engages in a meaningful conversation about the Florida tragedy will create a space for all viewpoints and ways for grieving to be accounted for. Provide a platform for multiple people with varying perspectives to share their personal stories, and impress upon them that the space is not for political grandstanding.
We must not remain forever in contemplation, however. It is our responsibility not only to grieve and to process, but to act. It is futile to claim that no one should feel unsafe in school without interrogating the causes of the insecurity and asking what we can do to fix them. Both individuals and organizations should consider what action steps they can take in order to ensure that our country does not need to grieve the same tragedy again.
As Florida teens are demonstrating, one does not have to have money, power, or status to contribute to change. It is clear that the survivors’ voices are dividing the nation, but we must remember the important Justice Informed tactic called “centering.” This is a practice common in social activism spaces, where the needs of the most affected and immediately unsafe are prioritized over the voices and opinions of those who are more privileged or comfortable. It is hard for people to feel silenced, but it is harder still for a young voice to be quieted forever. Social media has connected us in profound ways. What we individuals and organizations say to our friends, families, and coworkers — both in person and online — can be heard. And it matters.
Change can also come through legislation. One day after the tragedy in Florida, the Oregon House passed legislation related to gun rights. Engage your Congress people, and consider Florida as you vote in this season’s midterm elections. Make your voice be heard.
Moments of tragedy often compel us to action, but we cannot let the momentum fade. Every individual and community has a different role to play in advancing justice. Consider yours, and pursue it. Our country cannot afford for any one of us not to.