The Joyce Foundation's Long Fight to Curb to Gun Violence

Foundations have a reputation for chasing fads, jumping into issues that are hot and then losing interest long before the hard work of making change is finished. But that's the last thing you could say about the Joyce Foundation and its endless slog to reduce gun violence. Joyce has been on this case since 1993, laying out a substantial tally of grants year after year. 

Gun violence claims thirty thousand people annually in the U.S., and the pace of mass shootings seems to be growing. But instead of unifying the country, the slaughter has to led to an increasingly polarized debate over gun laws.  

There's no mistaking where Joyce stands in this debate. It's among the leading anti-gun funders in the foundation world, with a Gun Violence Prevention program that funds research, policy, and public education. By far their highest priority within the program is public health-related funding. They helped create the National Violent Death Reporting System (now housed within the CDC).

Joyce has also given over $4 million to the Violence Policy Center, which supports an outright ban on handguns and semiautomatic assault weapons. For this, they have been maligned by the NRA, which calls them an activist foundation whose “shadowy web of huge donations” leads “straight to puppet strings that control the agenda of gun ban groups.”

On the contrary. Despite Joyce’s controversial gun control grant program (they also support programs in education, environment, employment, culture, democracy, and others throughout the Midwest) they seem to be pretty transparent. Annual and financial reports are at-the-ready. Where their funding comes from, and where it goes, is easy to trace. Though they’re undeniably out in front, and pretty far left, on this issue (and other issues) they make no bones about their liberal stance, or about how they’re perceived by other groups.

In 2013, Joyce made $5.4 million in grants to organizations across the country working to stem gun violence. Some of the grantees, like the Illinois Council on Handgun Violence, are Midwest-based state or community organizations aimed at advocacy and outreach. That sort of giving has been Joyce's M.O. for a long time.

But money is also moving farther afield to take on gun violence issues at a national level. Harvard pulled down the biggest grant made by the gun program last year, for its Preventing Firearm Violence project, long a focus of its School of Public Health. And about $2.3 million, nearly half Joyce's total giving, went to groups in Washington D.C. like the Violence Policy Center and the New Venture Fund. Joyce has also backed the work of Arkadi Gerney, a gun policy expert who's a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.  

In short, this is a funder that's not only in a big issue for the long haul, but which is pulling multiple levers to make change, both nationally and on its home turf.