Through FORGE, Casey Woods works from within the gun owner community to catalyze leadership and collaboratively create innovative initiatives to prevent the illegal and unsafe use of guns. FORGE’S strategies are focused on tapping into gun owners’ protective motivation by empowering them with new knowledge, tools and practices to prevent suicide and gun crime, contributing to a firearms culture where gun owners’ full potential to save lives is realized.
The New Idea
Gun owners have a deep personal interest in preventing gun deaths: the primary reason most cite for owning guns is personal protection and security. They most often own guns because they want to protect themselves and their families from violence. Yet the debate about guns remains so divisive that it prevents progress even on common ground steps that nearly all sides agree on. FORGE is the only national non-profit specifically focused on engaging America’s 50 million gun owners in new ways on tangible, non-political efforts to tackle the root causes of the suicides and homicides that make up 97% of gun deaths in America.
Casey’s insight and work through FORGE deploys a collaborative project model that is heavily focused on key partnerships with leading individuals and groups in the firearms community. By working authentically from within the firearm community, FORGE inspires direct individual action to prevent suicide and the illegal flow of guns.
FORGE believes an America with no gun deaths is possible. But this future will not happen without the meaningful engagement of gun owners.
Nearly 40,000 people die from gun-related injuries in the U.S. every year. Suicides represent two-thirds of gun deaths and more than half of all suicides are by gun. Since the CDC began publishing data in 1981, gun suicides have outnumbered gun homicides. Yet, the stigma around suicide and the lack of media coverage has created a ‘silent epidemic.’ The result is deep gap in public perception: a majority of people say gun homicide is responsible for more deaths than gun suicide even though the opposite is true.
While suicide accounts for 60% of gun deaths in the U.S., gun homicides are an equally serious issue accounting for nearly 15,000 lives lost. The CDC has found that 51% of all homicides involve a firearm and additional research shows that the majority of gun crimes – including homicides – are committed by someone who cannot legally own a gun and usually acquired the firearm illegally through other means. One of the top sources of illegally obtained guns is theft, with 400,000 guns stolen from individual gun owners every year. Every gun theft represents a gun owner who is the victim of a crime, and a community that is victimized by another gun introduced into illegal activity.
FORGE works nationally through a project-based engagement strategy. FORGE’s project model is built on a process of deep engagement, collaborative project development, and a partnership-based approach that catalyzes leadership from within the firearms community on the prevention of suicide and homicide. In this way, diverse actors can be engaged creatively and authentically to seize on opportunities today and, over time, move the field forward.
Initial projects included The Overwatch Project (www.overwatchproject.org) which empowers gun owners, starting with the veteran community, to intervene with friends and loved ones to prevent suicide through protective firearm storage measures – following the successful peer-intervention model of the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign. The Firearms Security Alliance is focused on cutting off a key source of crime guns by preventing gun theft, via extensive partnerships with leaders in the firearms community, including gun ranges and gun owner education organizations.
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 national 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 violence, where children are so often victims. When she left journalism and launched the nonprofit that became FORGE, she was focused on an area where she had deep experience and connections: law enforcement. Yet through a series of conversations with police and other gun owners in communities across America, including her own family, Casey saw the tremendous opportunity to work from within the broader firearms community to create systemic solutions.
Casey’s experiences have time and time again shown her the power of asking the right questions and empathizing deeply. Through this work, she is focused on finding ways to change the narrative and debate around a polarizing issue to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.