Casey Woods

Ashoka Fellow
United States
Fellow Since 2016
This description of Casey Woods's work was prepared when Casey Woods was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 .


Through Arms with Ethics, Casey Woods is leveraging law enforcement’s unique ability to speak to all sides on the gun issue by developing police-led proactive strategies that help build a national network of common-sense, consensus-building community safety partners that includes gun owners and gun sellers.

The New Idea

Despite the fact that over 100,000 people are shot in the US each year, gun violence persists because of the divisions that prevent productive dialogue and action on solutions – even solutions that focus on measures most gun owners agree with. Within this environment, Arms With Ethics is taking an alternative approach to the problem of gun violence, focusing on strategies that provide paths for law enforcement leaders to take immediate action on common-sense initiatives to prevent the illegal flow and illegal use of guns.

Casey’s insight and work through Arms with Ethics is focused on leveraging law enforcement’s unique ability to speak to all sides on the gun issue by developing police-led proactive strategies that engage both gun owners and gun retailers as partners in protecting public safety. Each of Arms With Ethics’ initiatives has a dual focus: to both have an impact on the illegal flow of guns and to engage law enforcement leaders in a new way that expands and maximizes their potential to be effective voices on the issue of gun violence in their communities and across the country.

Arms With Ethics partners with more than 45 law enforcement agencies in a dozen states on strategies that include programs to help prevent gun theft from retailers and individual gun owners, address gaps in effectively tracing crime guns, and help law enforcement provide expanded gun safety resources to gun owners and dealers. These innovative approaches offer immediate avenues for law enforcement to meaningfully engage with the community around the issue of gun violence.

The Person

Casey grew up in Arkansas, where gun collections were common, hunting was a family sport, and freshly-hunted wild game was a staple at holiday meals. Her mother likes to share a story of young Casey, upon being asked ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ and Casey responding “I’m going to change the world, but I just don’t know how yet.” Casey channeled that early idealism first into personal writing, and later into journalism, a profession she describes as a “search for truth and justice.”

Casey cut her teeth as a journalist in Chile, first working with a veteran news correspondent to cover the human rights violation trials of former dictator Augusto Pinochet, and later covering environmental, human rights, and business stories for numerous U.S. newspapers and magazines.

Later, as a beat reporter covering crime and local government for The Miami Herald, Casey logged countless hours at police stations, combing through crime reports, examining budgets, and tagging along on stake-outs. She covered home invasions, street robberies and accidental shootings, interviewing dozens of crime victims. In her early months at the newspaper, she was sent out to interview the mother of a 10-year-old boy who had been shot and killed while playing on the patio just a few feet from his back door. She watched the local preachers gather outside in front of the cameras to lament another loss. Then days later, it happened again. Another reporter, another neighborhood, another child.

She was struck by the contrast between her upbringing, where guns were a normal part of life, and the grim monotony of big city gun violence, where children are so often victims. In her role as reporter she also watched up close as local communities drove and shaped other national issues and became convinced that the solutions to the gun violence crisis would come from the bottom up rather than the top down.

Casey’s experiences have time and time again shown her the power of asking the right questions and shifting local practices, of empathizing deeply and of helping people perceived to be part of the problem “flip” into roles as problem-solvers. When the Sandy Hook massacre happened in Newtown, CT, something clicked for Casey, and she realized that the question keeping her up at night had become “what am I going to do about this?” Arms With Ethics is the answer to that question. Through this work, she is focused on finding ways to change the narrative and debate on gun violence to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.