The Covid-19 pandemic is a brutal reminder of how interconnected our world is and how reliant we are on each other to keep our communities healthy and safe. Much the same can be said about another public health crisis — gun violence.

We are heartbroken by the increase in gun violence during the pandemic, which in 2020 rose to its highest level in decades, according to a Washington Post analysis. This year appears to be even worse, with an average of 54 lives lost a day through June. That’s 14 more deaths every day than the average over the previous six years.

As a nation, we cannot let heartbreak turn into frustration and inaction. Covid-19 has exacerbated the conditions that lead to gun violence, including pervasive economic hardship, record increases in gun sales, and social isolation. But it has also provided deeper understanding about potential solutions. We believe the insights from one public-health epidemic can help end another. While the pandemic offers many relevant lessons to draw on, we want to focus on one: the powerful combination of policy change and community action.

Government at all levels created policies critical to fighting Covid-19, including funding vaccine development and enforcing social distancing and the use of masks. But those policies would have been woefully insufficient without the collective action of communities working together to fight the pandemic. Inspiring examples abound. Houses of worship and community centers transitioned into testing and vaccination sites. Self-organized neighborhood groups delivered groceries to elderly residents sheltering in place.

“We believe the insights from one public-health epidemic can help end another. While the pandemic offers many relevant lessons to draw on, we want to focus on one: the powerful combination of policy change and community action.”

We believe a similar combination of policy change and community involvement is essential for ending gun violence. That’s why our organizations — the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Kendeda Fund — joined Fund for a Safer Future, a group of grant makers that invest in advocacy for state and federal policy changes to prevent gun violence. At the same time, both foundations are funding services that build community health and safety from the ground up.

On the policy front, the Fund for a Safer Future has supported strategies designed to prevent guns from going to those most likely to misuse them. These policies include new types of court orders, such as so-called red flag laws, that temporarily allow law enforcement and families to keep guns out of the hands of people at risk of violence, and policies that close loopholes in state laws so that fewer guns are sold without thorough background checks.

At the community level, efforts to prevent violence are breaking cycles of harm that have persisted for generations. In Atlanta, where the Casey Foundation and the Kendeda Fund have worked collaboratively for years to build healthier communities, several neighborhoods on the city’s south side are taking a public–health approach to address the causes of gun violence and to prevent shootings. They are deploying respected community members when violence or retaliation is likely to occur; training hospital staff to counsel gun-violence victims against retaliation; and providing supportive services for community members to address trauma and atone for wrongdoing.

The results are encouraging. In the neighborhoods where one such program, Cure Violence, operates, homicides have remained relatively flat during the first half of 2021 compared with previous years — a period when overall homicides in the city jumped 58 percent. These community efforts have proven so promising that Atlanta is now looking to expand them into other neighborhoods, using American Rescue Plan funding to build on what’s working.

What It Takes for Lasting Change

This combination of policy change and community involvement holds great potential for significantly reducing gun violence. But to turn that potential into lasting change, we need to see one more kind of collective action: Grant makers must make the same commitment to working collaboratively that so many communities have made during the pandemic.

By pooling resources, grounding their work in research, investing in proven strategies, and making a collective commitment to commonsense changes, a group of foundations working together can have a much bigger impact than those same foundations acting alone.

The Fund for a Safer Future is showing how this works. Grants made from our pooled funds have grown steadily since the fund began in 2011, totaling almost $3 million in 2020. But when we add up investments to prevent gun violence made by individual member organizations, the total soars to $110 million. Fund for a Safer Future members routinely learn about promising strategies and innovative grantees through their engagement with the fund. They then carry those ideas back to their foundations, which make even larger investments.

Unfortunately, too many grant makers have a reflexive aversion to strategies designed by others. After all, their organizations work hard to develop finely tuned grant-making strategies that are in line with their resources and so-called theories of change. This approach, however, can impede their ability to participate in the kind of collective efforts that bring about real change.

Do We Need to Invent It Ourselves?

Go-it-alone foundations should ask themselves if new philanthropic strategies to address gun violence are needed when we’ve already identified which policies need changing and which approaches work best in communities. What if the most important step a foundation can take is a humble one — a willingness to learn from others and invest in copying or expanding solutions that have already proven effective?

Successful efforts to prevent gun violence will never get as much media attention as the next mass shooting, but they are saving lives. By combining the power of policy change and community action, we can end gun violence. The answers exist. We know how to stop the violence. But we can only do it together.