On Tuesday, President Obama held his much-anticipated press conference on “Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence.” The country awaited the draconian or heroic – depending on whose side you were on – measures. And what happened?
Well, it feels like much ado about nothing. The “nothing” part being Obama’s less controversial initiatives where there is already some agreement across party lines. Figure out mental health solutions? Check. If you’re “in the business” of guns, do your paperwork? Check. Fund some Smart Tech safety projects? Sure. Hire more staff to enforce laws on the books? Big check.
There is conversely a little ado about something rising up in the culture worth talking about. We are again reminded – via the national stage of a presidency – that doing nothing about gun violence, gun safety or mental health just won’t fly with most Americans anymore.
Almost no one today is cavalier about their children, families’ and community safety. You can’t dismissively shrug off the innocent gun victims and families who come through our social and media channels every week. “But by the grace of God” versus “It could never happen to me,” is something that hits each one of us after these shootings.
So, what’s going on with guns, anti-gun violence, gun safety or whatever you choose to call tackling fewer deaths by guns? Well, a lot of people seem to realize this is everybody’s conversation. That could be a lot more important than Obama’s initiatives. Obama’s delivery yesterday certainly expressed his deep frustration in what he perceives as an inability to do what’s important to him – pass legislation. Because as he learned fairly quickly, even after 26 first-graders and educators are massacred, these conversations have a history and life of their own. However, if Obama reads press today from the gun industry and watches some of the recaps, he would be able to see there are consensus-building areas around safety and gun violence prevention. If we are going to get anywhere meaningful in prevention, we need to grab hold of some of those areas of agreement.
The gun safety conversations in this country are shifting. When the NBA unveiled an anti-gun violence message before Christmas, it was a big statement from a global brand leader who influences pop culture. Boldly entering a space with a cult-swagger – and pragmatism – we associate with millennial brands, essentially telling America we can all try to do something. Having faith leaders, Teen Vogue, Vice Media, the American Psychiatric Association, along with many others, talking about solutions to gun violence, engages individual Americans of all ages, in whatever arena in the country people and brands play in.
Maybe Obama’s much ado about nothing is really about something more than political brinkmanship. Sure, the political machines and the social media dog fights are still talking around the topic, but the power of mass apolitical media and brands have attracted new – less cynical – people. These new people and brands are here because of moral conscience. That’s where any hope of problem-solving begins. We won’t get all of the conversations “right.” There is trust to build, talking to people about things you personally don’t like, taking a few leaps of faith testing some new ideas.
No one says you have to even like guns to discuss gun locks, urban violence or mental health. Perhaps the gun haters are far better off saying they hate guns and go from there. It’s honest and believable. But gun sales are booming and we can certainly agree that we all are against preventable deaths.
People will keep dying, and not quietly. Now it’s right in front of us in real-time similar to the way we saw body bags weekly on TV during the Vietnam war, which really fueled the anti- war movement. We could all do our friends, neighbors and communities, a big favor by not being so quick to kill honest, apolitical efforts by dismissing everything as a bad idea.
For example, “Drink Responsibly” is a catch-phrase embraced by all and Budweiser is now leading a global effort for responsible drinking. But can we develop a “Carry Responsibly” or “Hug a Responsible Gun Owner Today” message? Are those things we can all get behind? Drunk driving used to be a big joke, now the culture has shifted after years of marketing, and it’s socially unacceptable. I can’t say for sure what works with legislation, but I do know that culture is the ultimate deterrent, and that we all benefit from a culture of personal gun safety and violence prevention, advocated by all. Even the gun haters.
I don’t generally comment on legislation or politics. I run a non-profit solely dedicated to gun safety outside of the legislative arena. But I grew up around guns and my dad is a mortician. He says when you have cleaned up after someone who has committed suicide by a gun you never look at death the same way. My parents were divorced and my younger brother loved guns. He probably did target practice in his room. I told my mother recently we were lucky no one got hurt and she didn’t disagree with me. My family still lives in Minnesota, all three brothers shoot – one is a safety range officer at his gun club after his two tours in Afghanistan. But I’ve seen people do some incredibly stupid things with guns that have hurt people they were very close to – all avoidable and unintentional. Safety is not a side.
Like Lebron James, maybe we can get our game on reminding people to be as safe as they can with a gun avoiding that one preventable tragedy.
Co-founder of Evolve. Passionately promoting gun safety through innovative campaigns and mass communications. Momx3, caffeine-addicted, ex-Minnesotan in the wonderland of New York. Least favorite words: I'm bored. Can't. Won't. Most motivating words: It can be done. Idea.