The History of AAUW’s Position on Gun Violence Prevention
As you can imagine, AAUW continues to receive inquiries from members regarding our policy position on gun control in the wake of the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. We, the members of the AAUW Public Policy Committee (APPC), recognized early on that this issue required a closer look. The committee engaged in some important discussions in the weeks after the tragedy. Our sense was that the current language of the member-adopted 2011–13 AAUW Public Policy Priorities covers the extent to which AAUW should be involved, as far as public policy. In arriving at that decision, we found it helpful to look at the language of the Public Policy Priorities and member-adopted policy resolutions, as well as the context in which those documents were drafted, debated, and passed by AAUW members.
The 2011–13 AAUW Public Policy Priorities states, “AAUW advocates freedom from violence and fear of violence in homes, schools, workplaces, and communities.” Thus, we saw from the beginning that gun control is not an issue that has been formally specified in the Public Policy Priorities. However, we recognized that this statement could be broadly interpreted, and thus we turned to the member-adopted resolutions to further clarify AAUW’s policy position.
AAUW does have a member-adopted resolution from 2001 urging our membership to engage in “gun violence prevention” efforts (see page 86 of the AAUW resolutions). It is important to note that during the debate of this resolution, AAUW members deliberately removed the word “control” from the body of the proposed resolution; after much debate, members quite purposefully substituted “gun violence prevention” for the phrase “gun control” in the final version, choosing not to have AAUW wade into the gun control debate regarding assault weapons, mandatory waiting periods, and background checks. In summary, gun control and gun violence prevention are topics that have been discussed at some length by the AAUW delegate body at previous conventions, and the result was a clear intent to focus on gun violence prevention as more in keeping with AAUW’s mission.
The AAUW member-adopted resolution on gun violence prevention was quite forward-thinking, even prescient. It resulted in our committee urging AAUW to participate in the overall gun safety debate in an original and specific way. Given the stated desire of the AAUW membership to focus on gun violence prevention instead of gun control, the APPC and AAUW public policy staff decided to concentrate AAUW’s efforts on injecting the issues of bullying and harassment into the gun violence debate. We know that improving school climates is linked to reducing gun violence in schools, and we’re pleased to say AAUW’s efforts have expanded the debate and pending legislation in valuable and substantive ways.
Our decision as the Public Policy Committee, however, does not have to be the final word in this ongoing discussion. The strength of the AAUW Public Policy Priorities is that it begins and ends with our membership, and as such it is as flexible and responsive as we, the AAUW membership, make it. Please know that the APPC is always available to discuss any concerns about AAUW policy efforts with the membership. In the near term, AAUW members who would like to see immediate changes in our gun violence position or who have other concerns or ideas are encouraged to contact us at email@example.com. In keeping with the principles of the Public Policy Priorities, the committee would certainly consider a further clarification of this policy position if there appeared to be strong sentiment among the membership.
In the long term, if AAUW members wish to more formally modify the Public Policy Priorities to include different language on the gun issue or submit another AAUW resolution with revised language, the opportunity to do so would be in 2014, in advance of the 2015 AAUW National Convention. Proposals would be considered through the regular Public Policy Program revision and policy resolution processes.
In the meantime, we encourage branches and states to initiate discussions in their communities and contact their lawmakers about the importance of addressing school climates, bullying, and harassment and their relationship to gun violence prevention in schools as a key component of the gun safety debate. AAUW’s own groundbreaking research can help to guide this discussion.
This post was written by the AAUW Public Policy Committee (APPC), which is charged with “assisting staff in the development and implementation of the AAUW Public Policy Priorities” in accordance with AAUW Board Policy 115. The policy also states that to be considered for membership on the committee, individuals “must have served as a branch or state public policy chair or have had other policy experience.” Additionally, the AAUW president and Capitol Hill Lobby Corps chair serve as ex officio members with a vote, and the AAUW executive director serves as ex officio without a vote.