CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2023, 42,926 people died by gun violence in the U.S. according to gunviolencearchive.org.
North Carolina has also seen a fair share of that violence. A report by Everytown For Gun Safety shows our state falls right in the middle with the 24th highest rate of gun deaths in the U.S.
As we start the new year, a nonprofit is trying to change the conversation around gun violence one video at a time.
Changing the narrative around gun violence is no easy task. For Taylor Maxwell, it's a topic that holds a personal meaning.
"I have been working in the movement to prevent gun violence for about a decade, little over a decade ... and that started about six months after Sandy Hook, and that shooting that killed 26 people, 20 children and six educators," Maxwell said. "I didn't realize it until a few years after working on this issue, that it had also affected my family.”
It was a family death that reignited the fire in her to do this work.
"I was in fifth grade when my cousin Jason died by gun suicide. I don't honestly remember a lot about Jason, but I remember his funeral very well ... that sort of moment really sticks with you when you're a kid," Maxwell said.
Especially as a mother, she says it makes her work with Project Unloaded even more important.
"Most young people are turned off by the polarized nature of the gun debate. They don't want to have to pick a side, but they are interested in learning the facts, and many of them are considering getting a gun. So our job is to reach them where they're already spending their time, which is places like Tiktok, Snapchat and Instagram and share with them the facts in a way that is relatable, engaging and won't turn them off," Maxwell said.
That work consists of making videos that teens find relatable. She believes if teens are the ones spreading the message, it's likely to hold more weight.
She says the goal is to get teens to educate other teens.
"They have a lot of information thrown at them, they have a lot of people telling them what to do. Our job is not to tell them what to do, but instead give them the facts and let them make up their own minds," Maxwell said.
"We know from our research and from many years of research that most Americans believe that having a gun at home makes their families safer. And that myth is what drives up gun deaths, and it drives up gun ownership. Those two things are really closely related, and so our goal is to reach the next generation with the facts and allow them to make up their own minds. And we see that when we do that, we're successfully moving them to hopefully a safer future,” she said.
Maxwell said in 2023 the project reached over three million youth 13 to 17 years old across Tiktok, Snapchat and Instagram, and she hopes that work grows even more in the new year.