America’s gun violence crisis is not an easy thing to grapple with. It can seem like an insurmountable epidemic, a perception that’s heightened by the steady stream of headlines about mass shootings, police killings, congressional inaction, and courtroom standoffs. Those issues are crucial to cover, but they can suck up all the air in the room. There’s a lot of news about the problem, but far too little about who — and what — is working right now to reduce gun violence and help victims and their families through a shooting’s traumatic aftermath.
That’s why we launched The Trajectory. It’s a newsletter about where we go from here, written by reporter Chip Brownlee. Every other week, Brownlee will send dispatches highlighting the stories of individuals and communities taking action to reduce gun violence, as well as the innovative programs and policies that are making a difference. The first edition went out Tuesday; you can read a version of it on our website. As Brownlee wrote in his introduction: “The epidemic will never abate if we focus only on the problem. We have to look at potential solutions, too.”
I spoke with Brownlee this week about The Trajectory. Our discussion has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.
The Trace: Tell me a little about the genesis of The Trajectory. How long have you wanted to do this? Where did the idea come from?
Chip Brownlee: We’ve had great, informative newsletters at The Trace for years. But pretty much since I started working here three years ago, there have been ideas floating around for another newsletter, one that would focus more specifically on solutions — the policies, programs, and people working to address the issue. We thought that providing this third option would not only inform our readers about the progress being made, but that it could provide sort of a respite from a lot of the negative news or sadness that we often see covering this beat.
I’ve been working with our editors for the past year or so to plan The Trajectory. I know those conversations were going on even earlier before I got involved.
Why do you think the idea for this newsletter has been a conversation at The Trace for so long?
There’s a lot of excellent reporting on our beat, both from The Trace and from other news organizations. But a lot of that reporting can be discouraging — both to the reporters, including me, and to the readers — because a lot of it tends to focus on the problem. Highlighting the problem is important, but it’s also important to think about how we make things better.
I think having this newsletter as a dedicated place to highlight the work being done on the ground, the interesting policies that could make a difference, and the research on how we get out of this crisis is going to be invaluable, and maybe offer some optimism. It’s also important that we critically evaluate these ideas and programs, to see just how they work and whether they’re working at all. I think this newsletter is going to be a great place to do that.
Can you give us a hint about some of the topics you hope to cover?
Well, I don’t want to give too much away. But I’m already planning to look at the way gun violence and the criminal justice system intersect, particularly when it comes to reducing rates of incarceration. I think there are a ton of opportunities to think about how our built environment — the cities we live in and the infrastructure we build — could be used as a tool to reduce gun violence. And there are a ton of community-led organizations and groups doing innovative work across the country. I want to highlight those as well.
What didn’t I ask about that I should have?
How our readers can get involved! I don’t want this newsletter to just be talking (or writing) at people. We have readers across the country, and I know they’re seeing interesting things in the communities that may be working to reduce gun violence, or maybe they have ideas of their own. I hope they’ll send me ideas and thoughts. They can do that by emailing me at [email protected] or through this form.
From Our Team
What If the CDC Could Track Gun Violence Like a Virus?: The first edition of The Trajectory, our latest newsletter, explores a new effort to improve data on nonfatal shootings.
Illinois Legislators Want to Expand Prison Alternatives for Gun Possession: The state created a pilot program that offers young people rehabilitation instead of jail.
Appeals Court Partially Blocks ATF’s Pistol Brace Rule: The scope of the injunction is likely to be limited, meaning it’s unlikely to prevent the ATF from enforcing the rule nationally.
What to Know This Week
On May 24, 2022, Jessica Treviño picked up her kids David James, Austin, and Illiaña from Robb Elementary at 11:30 a.m., just before an 18-year-old armed with an assault rifle attacked the Texas school. Since the massacre, the children have suffered from nightmares and panic attacks — and they’re just a small slice of the generation of Uvalde kids traumatized by the shooting. [The Texas Tribune]
Much of the blame for the botched police response to the Robb Elementary attack has centered on the former chief of the Uvalde school district’s police force. But some top law enforcement agents who also were behind the delay in confronting the shooter remain on the job. [The Washington Post]
Six in 10 Americans say controlling gun violence is more important than protecting gun rights, according to a new poll. That’s the highest percentage in a decade. [NPR]
A new terrorism advisory from the Department of Homeland Security warned that the U.S. “remains in a heightened threat environment” that could intensify in the lead-up to the 2024 general election. The agency bulletin linked the shooter who killed eight people at a mall in Allen, Texas, with “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist” and “involuntary celibate violent extremist” ideologies. [NBC/National Terrorism Advisory System]
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation that will allow law enforcement, family members, and health care providers, among others, to petition courts to temporarily remove guns from people who could be dangerous. [Detroit Free Press] Context: Michigan is the 21st state to approve an extreme risk protection order law, commonly known as a “red flag” law. Find the other states with such laws on the books here.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who campaigned on holding police accountable, declined to take over a high-profile police shooting case that was dropped by San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins. Bonta’s inaction put an end to the first known prosecution of a San Francisco officer for the on-duty killing of a civilian. [Bolts]
Gun violence disproportionately affects Black and Latino people, but according to a new UCLA study, young Black and Latino staffers in national-facing gun violence prevention groups commonly reported being marginalized in their work with those organizations. [The Guardian]
Evolv Technology has aggressively marketed its artificial intelligence-powered weapons detection system to schools, and its efforts are paying off: This month, the company announced its stock price had risen 167 percent over the past year. But public reports show the company overpromises the system’s efficiency and effectiveness, and it’s come under criticism for faults in its technology. [The Intercept]
Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol; the sentencing judge accepted the federal government’s recommendation to apply a terrorism enhancement to Rhodes’s term. During trial, prosecutors argued that the founder of the far-right extremist militia and other Oath Keepers had stockpiled firearms in a Virginia hotel before the insurrection. [NPR/ABC/The Guardian]
Memphis Grizzlies player Ja Morant was suspended from all team activities after he flashed a gun on an Instagram livestream for the second time in just over two months. However you view Morant’s behavior, writes Kevin B. Blackistone, when you reduce it, you find that “he is wholly symptomatic of the infection in this country that is its gun culture.” [The Washington Post]
The 9/11 attacks appeared to usher in an era of fear and ever-present danger in America. Two decades later, that still holds true — but the peril lies with the threat of mass shootings, not terrorism. [The New Republic]
Last February, a Chicago judge barred using ballistics matching, or firearms forensics analysis, as testimony in a criminal trial, the first judge in the country to eliminate the analysis in court outright. The decision shone a light on evidence that the practice might be junk science — and it could change how gun crimes are prosecuted. [The Watch]
Juan López, 39, was excited. His daughter was turning 9, and though he couldn’t be with her in person, he’d landed some work that would help pay for a cake back in Nicaragua. López was shot and killed while he was working that small job, painting over graffiti at a Los Angeles ice cream shop, on April 15, his daughter’s birthday. López, described as a humble, quiet man, and a good father to his three children, had sought political asylum last year, hoping to avoid getting “arrested or disappeared” for his family’s protests against President Daniel Ortega’s violent dictatorship, Ruth López Suarez, his sister and roommate, told the Los Angeles Times. It was a formidable path: Before López arrived in the U.S., she said, he had been kidnapped and held for ransom by a smuggler in Mexico, and he struggled to find employment as a painter in LA. He missed his kids. Still, López worked hard; he couldn’t wait to send the money for his daughter’s celebration back home. He made his bed, a cot in the living room, every morning. It’s still there, Ruth said, just in case he comes back.
The Second Generation of School Shootings: “The fear that overtook our village that afternoon — the horror of not knowing whether a small child to whom you are viscerally attached has just been slaughtered while learning multiplication tables — was unfamiliar to the majority of Americans. Today, all too many know exactly how it feels. Today, as an American sister, I would race to the school because I know. Today, American parents fling themselves into active-shooter situations because they know. Today, American second graders text their parents to say goodbye because they know. No one else in the world lives like this.” [The Atlantic]
“I don’t want them remembered as Robb kids. I want them remembered as good kids.”
— Jessica Treviño, on what she and her husband hope for their children, whom she picked up early from Robb Elementary School the day of the massacre, to The Texas Tribune