Putting the Spotlight on Firearm Violence in Missouri
If you look in the local newspaper, there’s certainly no lack of stories about the latest spate of gun violence. Grim reports of murder are all too common, but they evaporate with the next day’s headlines, leaving no real impact or insight into the root causes or possible solutions to this tragic issue.
What is needed is a different type of reporting on firearm violence, telling stories that delve into this complex topic in a more meaningful, substantive way. And while it receives the greatest amount of attention, homicides are only one piece of the tragedy. Suicides and domestic violence are also inextricably linked to firearms and should be included in the broader narrative.
Without outside support, the financial landscape for media companies makes the possibility of more in-depth firearm violence coverage all but unobtainable. As advertising revenues have declined, newsrooms throughout the country face enormous cutbacks and closures. In Missouri, important stories of all sorts are slipping through the cracks, especially in smaller rural markets.
The Foundation’s work related to firearm violence prevention and supporting quality health-related journalism led us to a new partnership that connects both issues. In collaboration with MFH and Report for America, in June of 2020, the Kansas City Star announced the creation of the Missouri Gun Violence Project. This two-year effort is illuminating the topic in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Through this work, the paper has hired three new reporters that are exclusively dedicated to investigating firearm violence – in all its forms. The Foundation’s investment is allowing the reporters to go statewide in their storytelling mission.
Reporting on this topic means I get to dive deeper on a public health issue in the middle of a global public health pandemic. We're at a unique intersection and now more than ever is the right time to have different frames and conversations behind how these problems come to be.
[This project] allows us to highlight and uplift voices of community members whose experiences and lives have often been portrayed poorly in news. People can often see gun violence as something distant from themselves and can vilify both victims and perpetrators of gun violence, which allows large groups of people to directly ignore an issue impacting the community they live in and remove the burden of finding a solution to others.
I most look forward to continuing to cover domestic violence stories and start covering suicide, both of which can be forms of gun violence. Those two issues often don't receive in-depth, nuanced, and accountable reporting. And the more those issues are left in the shadows, the longer they persist and the greater the stigma.
The three talented reporters doing the work – Jelani Gibson, Humera Lodhi, and Kaitlin Washburn, are only just ramping up. We look forward to the next year and a half of their investigative reporting.
On October 18, 2020, the first story from the project was released, examining how a lack of trust in the police in Kansas City contributes to firearm violence. Other stories followed, including a three-day series focusing on homicides in St. Louis (in partnership with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and the connection between gun violence and domestic abuse in Springfield (in partnership with the Springfield News-Leader).
Building off of some of these first stories, The Kansas City Star partnered with American Public Square at Jewell to create three virtual roundtable discussions called Gun Violence in Missouri: Seeking Solutions, in late 2020.
The project’s first piece published in 2021, “Missouri saw deadliest year ever for gun violence in 2020, made worse by pandemic,” shows just how important and timely this work is. Firearm violence in one form or another touches all Missourians. A deep examination as to why it happens, and what can be done about it, is the first step toward a safer state for us all.
This project is just one piece of the Foundation’s work to bolster health reporting in our region.
In 2019 we launched a partnership with Kaiser Health News to form their Midwest Bureau. Through the bureau’s reporting we are strengthening high-quality media coverage on important health-related issues facing the region and sharing it with the rest of the country.