In Midst of Epidemic, 'The Trace' Digs Deeper Into Gun Violence

Reports of mass shootings have become a frightening reality, with more than 300 already occurring this year. However, the media rarely takes on the broader topic of gun violence; instead, it covers the deadliest events as spot news stories and remains quiet in the interim.

And with the arrival of the Trump Administration, an emboldened NRA is pushing for relaxed gun regulations. 

But some outlets, in the wake of the killings in Orlando, Las Vegas and a Texas church, have begun to dig deeper into what guns in American culture mean and how lives are altered or ended in their wake.

Earlier this month, NPR asked the simple question: “What if We Treated Gun Violence Like a Public Health Crisis?” The story cited comments made by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy who compared government reactions to the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks, which were swift, to any number of mass shootings across the country, which was null.



Enter The Trace, a nonprofit website dedicated to researching and reporting on the single topic of gun violence in the U.S.

The Trace, initially backed by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, goes beyond the cursory coverage relegated to the most violent attacks. Instead, the site takes a hard look at the micro-systems that allow gun violence to happen.

Stories like “Only 11 States Require Gun Owners to Report Stolen Weapons to Police” and “Here’s How to Investigate Gun Theft in Your Community,” which offers a guide to anyone -- journalists to private citizens -- who wants to get involved, provide in-depth reporting and insight.

One key issue the site wanted to cover was the role gun thefts play in crime nationwide. Partnering with local news organizations, the outlet and its affiliates began to research where guns causing the violence originated. The results were published on The Trace in a piece called “Missing Pieces,” a year-long investigation into stolen guns and the violence that results. 

“Missing Pieces” presents gun violence in a profound light, showing the damage done to people, families and communities by firearms that, in this case, were bought legally and later stolen. It also reveals how easily a gun can slip from a “responsible” owner into the hands of criminals.

The article illustrates the public-health crisis Murthy raises. By reading about and witnessing the human impact of weapons through thoughtful and meticulously researched stories, even the staunchest guns-right supporter could see the value of civil discourse and the importance of policies that safeguard the public.

Midway through “Missing Pieces,” writer Brian Freskos tells the story of Justin Johnson, a man who worked as a doorman at a 24-hour diner in Charlotte, N.C.. He felt unsafe late at night and bought a 9mm pistol to carry with him at work.

Three years later, that gun was stolen from his home while he was out. The Charlotte police eventually found it in the possession of a convicted felon, who had used it to assault two officers. When Johnson spoke with The Trace, he learned for the first time what had happened to his gun. 

“That’s the last thing I ever wanted,” Johnson said. “I got it to use against somebody like that."

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