Addressing Trauma from Gun Violence

Gun violence is the leading cause of death and disability among Black males ages 15-34. Communities of color, specifically Black neighborhoods, families, and youth, are disproportionately impacted by community violence and trauma.

The word “trauma” expresses many states and emotions. One is the everyday feeling of being extremely scared, even overwhelmed. A second use for the word is the more clinical definition—an emotional response to a terrifying, often unexpected event or events. This can include being in a serious car accident, experiencing severe combat stress from a military deployment, or surviving a natural disaster such as a major earthquake. These events all can cause trauma. In some cases, those affected have little or no lasting trauma symptoms. Research shows that surrounding those harmed by a traumatic event with physical, emotional, and social support can make a huge difference in their healing and recovery. For others, longer-term reactions and symptoms are a natural response to a harrowing event; this response can make it difficult for people to move on with their lives.

The term “posttraumatic stress disorder” (PTSD) was initially a diagnosis for soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. It has since been applied far more broadly to describe a syndrome in those who have experienced a serious traumatic event. Medical and social scientists have learned a lot about individual trauma over the past few decades, with important discoveries in terms of how it can change the chemistry in one’s brain. These professionals have made promising developments in medical treatments for the aftermath of a traumatic incident and in trauma-informed care.

But what if there is no “post” trauma insight? What if police sirens, gunshots in the distance, and sidewalk memorials to those gunned down are a feature of daily life? How do we understand the experiences of people who have never directly experienced a terrible, unexpected event but nonetheless suffer from severe trauma symptoms? Despite scientific advances in the understanding of trauma, too little of this work also studies, or is developing solutions for, trauma from indirect and persistent violence.

Community trauma is not only the sum of the hurt and suffering of individuals who have had traumatizing experiences. It is also a collective trauma experienced in communities with elevated levels of violence.

Traumatic Impact on Black Adults

Adults who have had loved ones taken by gun violence suffer unrelenting traumatic loss in the face of persistent gun violence in their communities. As mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and siblings, they attend far more funerals than anyone should have to in a lifetime. For parents who lose a child to gun violence, the grief can be mixed with shame because of the inability to protect their children from harm. And for Black parents, an overlay of race and stigma has been found to affect their grief as well. Research suggests that when Black children die due to gun homicide, parents are often forced to grieve their loss against the backdrop of assumptions about their child’s criminal activity. This can intensify the trauma, contributing to withdrawal and a denial of grief.

Mothers, in particular, can feel ostracized from their social and community networks as a result of the stigma attached to having a child die by gun violence. One bereaved mother said, “People would tiptoe around me or not try to say anything. Or after the funeral, be afraid to say anything, or afraid to come by or afraid to be with me, because they don’t know what kind of reaction [I’d have], or what to do.”

The trauma does not stop with parents or immediate relatives. In communities where loss is all too common, each time someone in the community is felled by gun violence, the trauma is felt anew. In communities that already struggle with entrenched poverty and social and historical inequities, the daily strain of life intersects with punctuated violence to amplify this trauma. The trauma reverberates through families and across generations.

This information was printed with permission from a report by Everytown Research & Policy. Black By God is sharing this report in an effort to begin to address this less-studied, yet equally damaging, phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “community trauma.”

Please read the full report on

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