Viewpoint: Gun violence is everywhere — except on business agendas
I own a family of real estate management companies. We tend to thousands of homes throughout the District. Gun violence and crime in the city are not new to us. It’s not new to any resident. But during a recent week, I considered closing my offices — in a matter of days and in broad daylight, there were three separate shootings in a three-block radius of our building.
As a business owner and community member in D.C., I live in a world of policies, meetings and agendas. I talk about quarterly income and employee satisfaction. I talk about policy for nonprofit boards, policy in the buildings we manage, policy for my offices. But when I stopped to think about it, we have not had proactive conversations about anti-gun violence policy. We were only talking about fear. We were reacting to the last shooting. And then the next. And the next.
My companies have proudly operated in a converted liquor store on First Street and Florida Avenue NW since 2014. You might recognize it by the black and white James Bullough diptych or the little Vespa out front. On Jan. 5, 2021, a stray bullet came through the second-story window of my office building. The offices were closed, and no one was injured. We failed to capture the attention of police focused on the insurrection, so we were left to wonder where the bullet came from. Had someone been at work, that bullet would have moved through the very center of their desk chair.
It’s my business to provide people a home, a safe and comfortable place to live. It’s a human right that everyone deserves. Yet in most cases, home is where gun violence unfolds. Given that we have a voice in housing policy as a corporate interest, I’m calling on my colleagues in the industry to stand up against gun violence. I can’t sit by while my family, friends, staff, clients and community live in fear from this preventable violence. And I can’t continue to lead a business in this violent environment — it’s unsustainable. Let’s advance policies that reduce gun violence. We can do that.
Last month, I convened a group of community leaders concerned about gun violence. We held a “Gun Violence + Home” event to benefit the District Alliance for Safe Housing and their services for survivors of gun violence. The event featured a presentation from Maureen Cain, a national gun violence prevention speaker, about the lessons she’s learned photographing sites of shootings for her United States of Ammunition project. Her talk made me think differently about the power business owners have when it comes to gun violence. Cain suggests that we need to “expand our thinking to match the scope of the problem.”
So here’s where we start. First we acknowledge that this is terrifying. Then we acknowledge that no one has all the answers, but most of us have a piece of an answer and, collectively, we can build solutions.
When I asked myself these questions and applied them to my industry, I was surprised to realize I had never thought about what gun safety policies would look like in apartment buildings and condominium buildings. I don’t know yet what policies we’ll be able to enact, but I’m ready to learn and compelled to act. The buildings my businesses manage touch thousands of people. That’s an opportunity for me to help protect thousands of homes from gun violence. That’s a business opportunity I can’t pass up. That’s a human rights opportunity I can’t pass up.
Lisa Wise is CEO of Flock D.C., a property management firm, and co-founder of BirdWatch, which offers homeowner services.