Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Nothing stops a bullet like a job

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
updated 9:32 PM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
Residents attend a vigil sponsored by neighborhood group Save Our Streets on the Brooklyn sidewalk where a man was shot.
Residents attend a vigil sponsored by neighborhood group Save Our Streets on the Brooklyn sidewalk where a man was shot.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: Gun debate needs to go beyond background checks and assault weapons
  • Jones: Gun violence also tied to poverty, mental illness, lack of opportunity
  • Jones: Most people killed by guns in suicides, then in murders, not in mass shootings
  • Jones: We need jobs, education, activist community groups to help young people

Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy.

(CNN) -- Our gun debate continues to revolve around measures to prevent deranged people from using military-style weapons to massacre innocent people. This is a worthy goal. We should do all we can do, within the limits of our Constitution, to reduce the number and deadliness of these tragedies.

But I am increasingly concerned that the debate will never evolve to include deeper sources of gun violence in our country. After all, most people killed by guns in the United States are not killed in school massacres by villains carrying AR-15s.

They are killed one at a time, and usually by handguns. All too often, they die in urban and rural communities in economic distress. More people die in gun suicides than gun murders. This is the real gun violence epidemic. And universal background checks -- as important and necessary as that step is -- will not do much to curb it.

Van Jones
Van Jones

I had hoped the national debate might expand to include a deeper discussion of what is really happening with gun violence in America. So far, it has not. The conversation did not change much, even after Hadiya Pendleton, who marched with her Chicago classmates in President Obama's second inaugural parade, was shot and killed in a park while talking with her friends. She was only 15 years old. The truth is that her story is tragically common in America. And the most disputed ideas out of Washington, like an assault weapons ban, wouldn't do much to change that reality.

Opinion: More gun mayhem, and yet we wait for action

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



What can be done to really reduce the senseless slaughter in schools like Sandy Hook and on the streets in cities like Chicago?

Should we close the loophole that allows people to buy guns without a basic background check? Yes. Get illegal guns off the street? Yes. Ban assault weapons? Of course.

These things should have been done years ago. For the decades of inaction, we can thank the National Rifle Association, a gun manufacturers' lobby that has divorced itself from reality.

Should we put armed guards in every school? Probably not. More weapons do not necessarily make us safer. And the price for doing so might keep us from measures that are smarter and statistically more effective, like better mental health services and counseling for students on the edge. Proposals for "armed schools" may help the NRA sell more guns, but they don't address the underlying problems. They also risk leaving the rest of us in a perpetual high-fear, low-trust society.

Behind the scenes at 'Guns under fire'
Gore: Newtown 'watershed' on gun debate
Mental health stigma and violence

What could really turn the tide? Much of the daily violence is linked to economic desperation and despair. Areas of concentrated poverty continue to be linked to violent crime. In Chicago, the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods have the highest homicide rate. Studies by the Brookings Institution, Johns Hopkins, and even the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco note the link between lack of opportunity and violence.

We should be focused on connecting people, especially young men, to training and employment. As I said recently on "Piers Morgan Tonight," nothing stops a bullet like a job.

As author and journalist Alex Kotlowitz told CNN, in violent Chicago neighborhoods, "The American Dream is fiction."

NRA chief: Why we fight for gun rights

Fixing that by making sure every American has a chance to climb the ladder to opportunity is a good place to start. Beyond that, many community programs are having success at creating more peaceful streets.

For example: in South Los Angeles, the Community Coalition has created a safer neighborhood by working with residents to shut down a troublesome liquor store and connecting families to jobs resources. The Harlem Children's Zone is a successful example of an Obama administration program, Promise Neighborhoods, that has received too little money and too little attention.

Baltimore's Safe Streets program reduces gun violence by providing mediating services and resources for youth to participate in community service programs and job training. A University of Philadelphia study even found that greening vacant lots in cities helps reduce gun violence.

These programs and the crying need for jobs should be at the center of any discussion about reducing the horrifying death toll in our nation. Every child dead is a massacre, whether it happens in unspeakable numbers in a schoolhouse or one by one on the streets of Chicago.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT