At WAVE, we believe people deserve to live in an equitable, violence-free society where we all feel a sense of security, belonging, value, and pride. This is why, in 2023, we once again strived each day to create peace. We pushed for the adoption of new and expanded gun violence prevention policies, continued our work to break down racial barriers, hosted and participated in community events to raise awareness about the causes of and solutions to gun violence, and worked with youth in order to help build the next generation of advocates.
WAVE supporters worked hard this year, sending over 2,400 emails to their elected officials. These emails urged legislators to take action on critical issues, support bills that would save lives, and oppose the sort of reckless “guns everywhere all the time” policies pushed by the NRA and gun manufacturers.
In June, a coalition of legislators committed to reducing gun violence introduced a package of lifesaving bills. This package included
- A bill for background checks on all gun sales
- An extreme risk law
- A safe storage tax incentive
Throughout the legislative session we also championed other effective strategies to reduce gun violence. This involved advocating for bills that address children’s access to firearms and the regulation of ghost guns. Simultaneously, we worked against dangerous proposals, such as a bill seeking to permit firearms in schools and a bill attempting to ban specific merchant category codes.
In September, we hosted our biennial Gun Violence Prevention Day of Action. Over 100 WAVE supporters participated in the day. For the first time, we partnered with various organizations, including Giffords, Brady, March for Our Lives, 80% Coalition, and Forward Latino. We know legislators heard the message that Wisconsinites want stronger gun laws because at least a dozen new legislators signed on to new gun violence prevention bills following the event, including multiple Republican legislators.
We saw a significant increase in bipartisan cooperation, including bipartisan support for a gun violence prevention bill authored by Republicans. This is because Wisconsinites are using our voices: legislators say that constituents in red and purple parts of the state increasingly have asked them to support gun violence prevention policies!
We dedicated a significant amount of time to raising awareness about the tragic connections between domestic abuse and gun violence and working toward closing the domestic violence loophole created by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2022. We worked closely with our partner organization End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin to ensure a bill could be introduced and passed in the state legislature.
In February, we went to the White House for the Building a Better Wisconsin meeting to discuss the urgent need for gun violence prevention solutions with the Biden Administration. In the following months, the administration announced the creation of the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, designed, in part, to support state organizations like WAVE. We are excited about our partnership with this office.
For years, we have championed the need to expand background checks; in September, President Biden directed the ATF to more clearly define who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms, which has the potential to drastically reduce the number of gun sales which may take place without a background check. We hosted three events to educate people about how gun sellers have exploited holes in the current background check system and how the new proposed rule could prevent this. We then helped participants craft effective comments to the ATF in support of finalizing the proposed rule. Watch a recording of one of those events here.
Community Violence Intervention
WAVE continued to champion Community Violence Intervention (CVI) programs this year. The most significant progress we and a coalition of partners helped achieve occurred in Green Bay and Racine. Both cities hired directors to lead their new Offices of Violence Prevention. It is the first time either city has had someone in this position, and both directors have joined the coalition. Kenosha has also committed to forming an Office of Violence Prevention.
We continued to strengthen partnerships with Black- and Brown-led organizations, both in Milwaukee and at the national level. We educated people about historical reasons why gun violence disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities and worked to find equitable solutions. We also made progress on a research project to explore the intersections between racism, gun violence, and other social determinants of health, beginning with extreme heat.
WAVE staff helped plan gun violence prevention rallies with Grassroots Northshore and Change the Ref and spoke at another rally hosted by the Milwaukee School Social Workers Association.
In May, WAVE assisted Forward Latino and 80% Coalition in hosting an Emergency Gun Violence Summit. WAVE’s executive director, Jeri Bonavia, gave the keynote address, and WAVE’s Policy and Strategic Partnerships Manager sat on a panel. Over 250 people gathered to discuss the causes of, and solutions to, Wisconsin’s gun violence crisis. Panel discussions included topics on community violence intervention strategies, how faith communities can respond to gun violence, the impact gun violence has on young people, and policy solutions.
In June, we helped organize, host, and publicize Milwaukee’s Wear Orange events for National Gun Violence Awareness Day in close collaboration with several other organizations, and we promoted Wear Orange events across the state.
We promoted and participated in many other local events throughout the year to strengthen connections and help educate people about gun violence.
Suicide remains the leading cause of gun deaths in Wisconsin and across the United States. WAVE shared educational information, such as the impact of firearm access on suicide risk and mental health coping strategies recommended by mental health organizations. Additionally, we worked to promote open conversations about mental health and to reduce the stigma that often hinders individuals from seeking essential professional support.
Civic Engagement Work
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election in the spring was critically important. As always, WAVE worked to educate voters about important election deadlines and their voting rights. Additionally, we added a feature to our website that allows people to find and contact your elected officials.
We also added information to help you write letters to the editor of your local newspaper to our website. Letters to the editor and opinion pieces are important tools to show your elected officials that their constituents support stronger gun laws and to educate others about gun violence prevention.
Throughout the year we regularly participated in community events and forums to help educate the public about the realities of gun violence, and evidence-based solutions.
We also communicated frequently with news media to bring critical attention and awareness to the issue.
This year’s youth internship centered around raising awareness through in-person events and social media. Interns learned how to communicate gun violence’s risks and impacts on communities effectively. Watch two videos produced by our interns here.
We have also started the process of expanding our youth programs to include a Youth Advisory Board so that young people in Wisconsin can stay engaged with gun violence prevention efforts year-round. Our goal is to guide, educate, and empower them, knowing that they will become the next generation of gun violence prevention leaders, who will play a vital role in forging a safer future.