Last night, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly. David Karp graciously invited me. Gabby and Mark recently started Americans for Responsible Solutions “to encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.” Here are my takeaways from the conversations of the evening.
When Gabby was shot, 6 others were killed and 12 were wounded. This took roughly 15 seconds. A bystander, armed with a gun was across the street inside a pharmacy, heard the shooting and ran out with his weapon. He raised his weapon and aimed it at a guy trying to tackle Gabby. He said he was milliseconds away from pulling the trigger. Of course, this was a gentleman trying to protect Gabby. In the situation, a wannabe hero will likely do more damage than good. The Aurora shooting where 12 people were killed and 70 were injured took a total of 30 seconds. Mass shootings are quick, deadly, and confusing. The belief that arming “the good guys” who took a safety class 4 years ago to take down the “bad guy” active shooter is a horribly unrealistic argument. In battle, as Mark explained, you have to resort to base instincts of survival, not calculated, Clint Eastwood-esque calm and collected cool. He would know. He’s been shot at, in fighter planes, around 30 times. And this is a guy calm and collected enough to be shot into space as the commander of the Space Shuttle. The armed hero in America that saves the lives of others in a mass shooting has yet to happen. It never will.
Women are particularly vulnerable in our society as they are often the victims of intimate partner violence. 52% of women murdered with guns are killed by spouses or family members.
Mass shootings, equally terrifying and sensational, rally the troops. It scares middle class suburbia, which is where these things tend to happen. Mental illness is highly associated with mass shootings. But this is just a distraction from the real situation— inner city poverty-stricken black, and less so Hispanic, youth where black market guns are ubiquitous and they are used for aggression. Illegal guns are trafficked into these urban areas circumventing local gun laws. Some cities, like NYC, have laws mandating prison time for anyone caught with an illegal gun. This sets the onus on police to find hidden guns as a means of prevention. But the real problem is the attitude amongst these urban young men that guns are a solution.
In 2015, gun-related deaths will surpass car crash-related deaths in America. Roughly 33,000 people are killed each year with guns and 100,00 people are shot. Cars are getting safer due to an industry-led approach to making cars safer. Guns are not. Safer guns are actively opposed by the industry. Pretty ridiculous to think about.
But I feel that things are coming to a tipping point. The NRA has run amok in national and state legislative bodies as the lobbying giant for gun companies and gun owners. They’ve spent roughly $30 million a year on expanding access to guns throughout America, under the guise of freedom and the Second Ammendment. But the reality is gun sales are down. Good job America. Prior to the last few years, there have been no significant gun control lobbying efforts. As the NRA was spending $30 million a year, gun control lobbying was typically less than $100,000— nationally. Gabby and Mark saw that this was a problem. Combined with Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts at Everytown for Gun Safety, the NRA is now equally matched with dollars and efforts. Through initiatives aimed at issues like background checks and ensuring convicted felons and domestic abusers cannot legally purchase guns, they are tackling the legislative side of gun control.
Big tobacco was defeated through data, lobbying efforts, and a multi-pronged educational effort describing the harmful effects of smoking. In 1964, the Surgeon General published a report saying smoking was harmful at a time when 50% of the population smoked. Fifty years later, roughly 10% of New Yorkers now smoke. Big behavioral changes in our culture take a long time. But that effort was initiated in a different time. There may be some evidence that big cultural changes may take less time. Look at gay marriage and legalized marijuana. I strongly believe that America always chooses the right path over time, but the path is just a messy one. So I am hopeful that cultural attitudes toward guns as a form of aggression will improve.
The real problem is our gun culture. Guns are still ever present in movies. Many households have guns that are 20 times more likely to be used against them than as protection. The Second Amendment rallies the Preppers. Gun companies are trying to increase their sales through ads aimed at women and young adults. You can still purchase massive amounts of ammunition at a time. Convicted felons can be let out of prison and, on that same day, legally purchase a gun. Convicted or accused domestic abusers can still legally purchase guns. Many in our culture still believe that armed heroes will save lives in mass shootings. Guns are still cool and an accepted means of aggression in certain populations of young men. How we connect Mark Kelly, Gabby Giffords, and Mike Bloomberg to the cultural attitudes in these urban communities is the real question. You can’t expect these kinds of initiatives to resonate with those cultures. Urban communities must have their own conversation and devise initiatives on their own to change their local attitudes. This is my hope. It’s wonderful that Mark, Gabby, and Bloomberg are starting the conversation, but urban communities must sustain and shape it. And that will be an exciting thing to see.