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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 2209 GMT (0609 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1802 GMT (0202 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1741 GMT (0141 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2040 GMT (0440 HKT)
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1401 GMT (2201 HKT)
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1232 GMT (2032 HKT)
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 1805 GMT (0205 HKT)
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT