A Coachella Valley-based project hoping to solve the nation’s gun violence problem has a message unlike most others: Stop hoping for legislation and start taking personal responsibility.
Brendan Steidle, a marketing manager by day and podcaster by night, is using his platform to explore unique solutions to gun violence outside of the halls of Congress. His project, Solving Guns, is a podcast series and website that probe the reasons why people own guns, statistics about gun violence, and the media reaction to mass shootings.
“The Solving Guns project began because I was very frustrated with seeing time after time all these instances of gun violence without any meaningful effort taken in the political sphere, to actually reach a real solution.” So begins the first episode of the series.
The first episode of Solving Guns was uploaded on April 4 of this year. Between then and mid-July, there were 212 mass shootings where three or more people were injured or killed. And in the seven weeks between May 10 and July 4, 41 people were killed in the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Ill.
In a grim way, the subject of gun violence is always relevant and topical in this country.
“Everyone seems to think the solution is just passing gun control laws to make it harder for people to get guns,” Steidle said. “But if you look at every recent attempt to do that, you realize they just keep hitting walls.”
Steidle acknowledged that some strides have been made at the local, state, and federal levels — most recently with the bipartisan gun safety law that includes money for school safety and mental health. However, Congress has long since abandoned any bills that would make a meaningful difference.
The 15 Solving Guns podcast episodes are a special series uploaded to the podcast feed of Polilogue. Brendan, a desert resident since 2013, began hosting Polilogue with his wife, Naomi Soto, about four years ago.
Soto is a health policy professional and is also heavily involved in the community. She sits on the Measure J Oversight Commission and even called into the most recent City Council meeting to voice her support for a livable wage for City Council members and for the city to provide childcare for all city employees.
The couple’s weekly podcast breaks down the biggest topics discussed on the political Sunday shows, analyzing subjects from the perspectives of lawmakers and the media.
Solving Guns is more than just a podcast. There are also videos with impressive graphics that illustrate statistics about gun safety. Brendan even designed a website that has an exhaustive list of more than 2,000 pages of sources, complete with Steidle’s own highlights, for each episode and topic.
The project is the fruit of years of tireless research, which shows when you listen to it. Steidle’s command of facts and studies is unparalleled, especially considering the volume of information he has analyzed.
Steidle said he came up with the idea years ago after yet another mass shooting. He recalled thinking to himself, “There’s got to be something more we can do to better communicate how to use guns safely. If only we could spread the word on some of these things, we can make a huge difference.”
The nonpartisan project begins with the idea that no one on either side of the aisle wants more people to die from gun violence. If we can all agree on that, we can start making practical changes in our everyday lives that ensure the safety of our family and those around us.
Separating fact from fiction
Part of Steidle’s mission is to simply insert facts into the debate.
First and foremost, he hopes to combat the fear some people have about the chances of being killed in a mass shooting.
“Most people dying from guns aren’t dying from mass shootings or homicides,” he said. “Suicides make up about two-thirds of people who die by guns.”
He points to a fact that may seem obvious to some: “People who attempt suicide are going to attempt it no matter what, but if they attempt with a gun, they are 40 times more likely to die. Most people who attempt suicide and survive don’t try and do it again. So, if you think about the people who use a gun, they don’t have that second chance at life.”
Next, he points out that having a gun in the home for protection also comes with risks.
“The number one reason people keep guns in the home is for protection. That’s a healthy normal thing to want. But the sad thing is, having a gun in the home makes them and their families more likely to become the victims of gun violence.”
Steidle said if there is a gun in the house, the likelihood of someone either committing suicide with the gun or being unintentionally injured or killed is much higher than the likelihood of someone successfully using the gun for self-defense from a home invasion.
Data shows security systems are more effective at deterring burglars than the presence of a gun. And as for personal safety items, Brendan says tasers and pepper guns are a better option.
“These non-lethal options are shown to have a deterrent effect, and the most important thing is they’re not deadly,” he said. “That means if you wake up in the middle of the night and you think you hear an intruder in your house and your fire at a shadowy figure, you don’t have to worry that you’re going to injure or kill a family member.
“You want to protect yourself, not kill someone.”
Steidle’s hard work is already paying off, and Steidle is hopeful it will lead to fewer deaths where a gun was a factor.
“I got an email from someone who said they had been considering getting a gun for a long time, and after hearing what I said about safety, they chose not to get a gun and decided on an alternative,” said Steidle.
So, in true researcher fashion, he dived in and did the math.
“I ran the numbers,” Steidle explained. “For every 36 people who were convinced to use an alternative to a gun, we can stop a firearm assault. For every 150 people, we can stop someone from actually being shot. And for every 3,000 people, we can stop someone from being accidentally killed.”
The media’s role
Polilogue,the podcast the couple have been working on for the past four years, primarily focuses on the quality and framing of political journalism. Steidle said he sees a lot of room for improvement in how mass media covers mass shootings and crime.
“The biggest thing the media can do during mass shooting coverage is to refrain from saying the name of the person who committed it and to not talk about their personal manifestos,” he advised. “There have been studies showing a media contagion effect.”
Steidle knows the media has to walk a fine line between informing the public and finding salacious and gory details to drive clicks and viewers.
“The media wants to help people understand what happened,” he said. “You can understand things by looking at the data and looking at solutions. You don’t have to dig into the shooter’s personal history.”
Even though violent crime rates have dropped significantly since their peak in the 1990s, Americans, when polled, think that crime rates have gone up.
That could be partly because most national and local news coverage revolves around crime. Other factors could be the recent uptick in neighborhood watch apps, social media frenzy over viral videos of crimes, and the age-old fascination with true crime spanning 16th-century leaflets to modern-day podcasts and documentaries.
This December marks the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary school mass shooting that killed 20 kids between the ages of six and seven. There’s a reason this seven-year-old tweet from a British journalist makes the round after every mass shooting:
“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” and it makes the round for a reason.
The children who survived the Sandy Hook shooting and saw their friends gunned down are now almost old enough to vote, and they have yet to see any meaningful gun reform in their lifetimes.
It’s hard not to become cynical and nihilistic in the face of that fact. But Steidle has done years of research and rigorously fact-checked his work, and he sees reason for hope.
Steidle lays out several steps that local leaders can take, including better safety measures at schools, an expansion of gun lockup options at police departments for people who may be suicidal, and comprehensive training for active shooter situations.
The latter is something Palm Springs Police Chief Andy Mills called for in a recent post on his blog, writing, “Police leaders should accept full responsibility for this lack of readiness. The Uvalde mission failed before it began. They lacked preparation. Many other departments in the U.S. would have failed too.”
Overall, Steidle thinks the Palm Springs Police Department is more than ready for any active shooter situation.
“We have to have a little faith in how we do things here in Palm Springs,” he said. “For example, I don’t think the mass shooting at the Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park could’ve happened here at our Pride Parade. We have armed police along the route. We know we could be a target because of our LGBTQ population.”
Speaking after the Highland Park event, PSPD officials sought to assure the community just as Steidle does. Lt. Gustavo Araiza said city law enforcement personnel has been on high alert during major public events for years and that intense planning occurs well before events begin. That planning involves numerous local agencies.
“We started evaluating the need for increased public venue security after the route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas,” Araiza said July 5. “That led to the development of our Designated Marksmen Group. … We will likely have them deployed at Pride. We had members of the team deployed at the Fourth of July event yesterday.”
At the individual level, Steidle says it’s all about talking to your friends and family in real life.
What does that look like? “Make sure that the guns are stored safely and locked away from children, check in with your friends that are struggling with suicidal thoughts, find out how to report someone you suspect is going to commit a shooting, and learn more about Trauma Education through the Stop the Bleed program.”
Most of all, Steidle wants people to envision a better future.
“My hope is that the solutions here can unite those on the left and the right behind one goal, to save lives, something we can all agree on.”