By John Borst PP Rotary Club of Dryden, ON

In 2017 when Rotary created a policy placing restrictions on the use of its Marks of Excellence for events and promotions involving guns many American Rotarians were outraged, claiming that it violated their Second Amendment rights.

At the time, I praised and defended Rotary’s courage to control their Corporate logo in this way. However, fear of falling TRF donations and the mental violence perpetrated by angry Rotarians eventually must have caused the Board of Directors to modify their decision to the point of meaninglessness.

The December issue of The Atlantic has an article Americans Don’t Really Understand Gun Violence by David S. Bernstein.  The articles sub-title “Why? Because there’s very little known about the thousands of victims, who survive deadly shootings.” provides a clue where Rotary may be able to do something positive about gun-violence in American society in a non-political way.

Two quotes by Bernstein define the problem:

“Fatal gun violence is often categorized in ways that make it easy to track and study. That’s how researchers know that the murder rate in the United States has declined steadily over the past three decades. But what about gun violence that does not result in death? That is far trickier to measure. That’s because nonfatal gun violence has mostly been ignored.

As a result, policymakers, law-enforcement officials, public-health experts, urban planners, and economists are all basing their work on information that is unproven or incomplete. Without more data—without identifying who commits shootings, where, how, and against whom; without plotting their rise and fall, to correlate with potential contributing factors; without analyzing those questions on a national, regional, local, neighborhood, and individual basis—it’s impossible to tell which public policies and interventions could be most effective at reducing gun violence.”


Largely ignoring nonfatal shootings means that Americans are both vastly underestimating and misunderstanding gun violence. Underestimating, because researchers are only barely beginning to measure the personal, familial, local, and societal costs of what Kalesan and others estimate are more than a million shooting survivors living in the United States; and misunderstanding, because nonfatal shootings can be quite different from those that result in death.

The dearth of research makes it near impossible to fully illustrate the realities of gun violence to the broader public. As of now, for example, nobody really knows how often people are shot by their intimate partners, how many victims are intended targets or bystanders, how many shootings are in self-defense, how such incidents affect community investment and property values, or how much it costs taxpayers to care for victims. In order to come up with their estimate of a million shooting survivors, Kalesan and her colleagues had to rely on imperfect data from hospital emergency-room reports.

As a result, survivors of gun violence are largely invisible, even to the people who work closely on the issue—including policymakers, academics, and medical professionals. According to Thomas Weiser, an associate professor of surgery at Stanford University Medical Center, Americans unwittingly turn a blind eye to gunshot victims’ medical needs, economic hardships, capacity for work, and ability to socially integrate. “We know very little about [gunshot]-trauma patients after they leave the hospital,” Weiser said.

Rotary has Six Areas of Focus. Four of them are Health, Literacy, Economics and Peace. Each of the four justifies a way for Clubs, Districts and Zones within the United States to address this gap in America’s knowledge. Expressed in Rotary terms the Atlantic’s title is saying Americans are “illiterate” when it comes to discussing the full impact of “gun violence” within their society.

Using Weiser’s analysis “Americans unwittingly turn a blind eye to gunshot victims’ medical needs, economic hardships, capacity for work, and ability to socially integrate.” Physical health care, mental health, the capacity to earn a living and hold a job, and the prevention of conflict and living in peace are all features of Rotary Areas of Focus.Tied together, they can build a society literate in the field of gun violence on the survivors.

Surely, there are local, regional and national activities from local talks and video productions to research grants, and a special peace scholars program by which Rotarians, acting in the name of Rotary, could through their time, energy, and wallets build a new more harmonious society.