The Challenge: Reframing the Debate on Gun Violence to Mobilize Voters and Pass Legislation
Gun violence in Illinois is a serious public health issue killing more than a 1,000 residents every year. Despite overwhelming public support, passage of commonsense gun laws has stalled year after year in the Illinois General Assembly due to a well-organized and extremely vocal gun lobby. At the same time, the opposition has consistently pushed for new gun laws that would endanger Illinois citizens and erode local governments’ ability to enact strong firearm ordinances. Currently, Illinois is one of two states in the nation that does not allow the concealed carrying of weapons.
Joyce Foundation hired i.e. communications to create and carry out a strategic campaign plan in coordination with the Legal Community Against Violence and Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. The foundation’s goal was to develop a campaign that would motivate and mobilize voters to break the gridlock blocking passage of gun policy reform in Illinois and prevent dangerous new gun legislation, including concealed carry, from passing.
In January 2007, Legal Community Against Violence, with funding from the Joyce Foundation, contracted with i.e. communications to create and coordinate the Illinois Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (ICPGV), a research-based, public education campaign to promote meaningful gun policy reform in Illinois. In 2010, Legal Community Against Violence transferred the campaign to Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence to promote greater coordination of gun violence prevention efforts in Illinois. With this transition, i.e. communications continued to provide strategic consultation through 2011 and development of materials for the campaign.
- Branding, Identity, and Messaging – We developed a non-partisan brand that called attention to the widespread support for research-based, common sense gun policies in Illinois. The identity suite, themes, and messages of the campaign emphasized the need to keep guns out of the wrong hands, rather than restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens.
- Research and Polling – We conducted key informant interviews, a media audit, and two bi-partisan statewide polls, which helped gauge public opinion and support on gun violence issues and guide the development of the campaign strategy.
- Statewide Advisory Group – To provide strategic advice and support for gun violence prevention policies, e. identified stakeholders representing law enforcement, the medical and public health communities, faith-based organizations, local and state policymakers, and advocacy groups.
- Media – We provided media relations which secured widespread print and television media coverage of the statewide poll, ICPGV events, and legislative activity. With our support, ICPGV volunteers wrote op-eds and letters to the editor and participated in editorial board meetings.
- Collateral and Social Media Strategy – We created a variety of communications materials, including a website offering policy options fact sheets, a media center, and advocacy tools. A youth outreach strategy, including an online petition and Facebook page, was developed and implemented.
- Coalition Formed – Under one umbrella, the campaign brought together policymakers, law enforcement, advocates, and others committed to reducing gun violence in Illinois through policy reform.
- Messages Reiterated in the Media – Law enforcement, the public health community, faith-based organizations, local and state policymakers, advocacy groups, and the media reinforced “common sense” messaging in editorials, media interviews, guest columns, and letters to the editor.
- Youth Voices Activated – The campaign successfully engaged youth in ICPGV’s policy activities. The “Youth Petition Against Gun Violence” received over 1,000 signatures, which were presented by young people to lawmakers at a press conference that generated significant television media coverage. In addition, more than 300 high school and college students advocated for the passage of gun violence prevention legislation at a lobby day in Springfield.
- Gun Violence Prevention Law Passed – ICPGV succeeded in passing its first piece of state legislation, Senate Bill 940, in 2007. The new law allows the state to inquire about the mental health of gun purchasers in background checks.
- Dangerous New Gun Laws Stopped – The campaign also prevented the passage of numerous dangerous gun bills that would have increased access to deadly weapons, including House Bill 148, which would have allowed the concealed carrying of weapons in most public places.