Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Nothing stops a bullet like a job

By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 0232 GMT (1032 HKT)
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
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT