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Safe gun storage the focus of student’s community work

Kellogg’s Mercedes Flowers helped Evanston enact its safe storage ordinance
Mercedes Flowers wearing a blue shirt
Mercedes Flowers ’23 MBA helped Evanston officials develop the policy that would become the city's Safe Storage Act during an internship with the City of Evanston through a field study course.

Last June, Evanston’s City Council unanimously passed the Safe Storage Act, its latest effort toward gun violence prevention in the city.

The ordinance outlines the steps gun owners must take to ensure their weapons are safely stored and how they can be held accountable if their weapons are used by unauthorized persons.

A central player behind the effort to bring the ordinance into existence was a Northwestern student. During her time at the Kellogg School of Management, Mercedes Flowers ’23 MBA interned with the City of Evanston through a field study course, helping officials develop the policy that would become the Safe Storage Act.

Growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, Flowers was active in her local community, participating in the neighborhood association and joining city council projects. So, when Therese McGuire, a professor of strategy at Kellogg, approached her about a chance to make a difference in Evanston, too, Flowers jumped at the opportunity.

McGuire, who met Flowers through a course she taught in fall 2022, was looking for the next cohort for her field study program. Each quarter, McGuire places MBA students on temporary projects with city officials in the mayor’s offices of Chicago and Evanston. The students bring new perspectives and “bench strength” to the city, according to McGuire, while learning about the challenges that city officials face.

“Kellogg should be out there helping them solve problems, and the students get a lot out of it,” McGuire said. “It enriches both sides.”

McGuire placed Flowers with the City of Evanston for the winter of 2023. After a discussion, the mayor, the city’s policy coordinator and Flowers landed on gun violence prevention policy as her area of focus.

Using her background as a management consultant, Flowers created a plan, parsing out what kind of goal could be feasible during her short time with the city and how, week by week, she could make it happen. The first step: research.

In 2021, nearly 2,000 Illinoisans lost their lives to gun violence in the form of homicide, suicide and unintentional deaths, per the Violence Policy Center. For nearly a decade, gun deaths have outpaced motor vehicle deaths across the state.

According to the nonprofit organization Everytown for Gun Safety, the presence of a gun in the home triples the risk of death by suicide and doubles the risk of death by homicide, in addition to increasing the likelihood of death during domestic violence disputes and unintentional deaths to children and household members. Secure storage can help reduce these risks.

On top of Illinois’ gun laws, already among some of the strongest in the country, Evanston has its own gun violence prevention initiatives. The city has handed out gun locks and marks Gun Violence Prevention Day every year. Additionally, for more than a decade, the Evanston Police Department has hosted a gun buyback program.

I was thinking about, ‘How can we, as Evanstonians, move from what is already a good starting point to best in class?’” Flowers said.

After doing a deep dive on cutting-edge gun policies, Flowers created a short list of policy categories the city could pursue, ultimately deciding to focus on safe storage, which prevents shootings by disrupting unauthorized access to firearms. She worked with city attorneys to draft language for the ordinance, then workshopped it with experts from groups like the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

When it became clear the project would take longer than the quarter-long field study program to complete, Flowers chose to stay on with the city and continue her work.

“I wanted to see it through,” Flowers said.

Her project ended in success when all seven members of the city council present at the June 26, 2023, meeting voted to adopt the ordinance.

In its final form, the Safe Storage Act requires gun owners to secure their weapons with an engaged trigger or cable lock or lock their guns in a container or gun room. Additionally, the act sets out the fines gun owners will face for violations of safe storage rules, and gun owners can be held civilly liable if their unsecured gun is used for harm.

Though the new policy is a relatively small change, it’s another step toward keeping Evanston residents safe, and Flowers is glad to have made a lasting impact during her short time in the city before returning to St. Petersburg.

“I like to be involved, and this was a really cool way to take on an important issue in the community in which I was living,” Flowers said. “Even though I knew it would be temporary, I loved Evanston, it was an awesome town, and to give back to it in any way was my privilege.”