How (and why) to Take A Stand on Gun Violence

On Tuesday, May 24th, America mourned yet another gun tragedy as 19 children and two teachers were brutally murdered at an Uvalde, Texas elementary school. Just over a week earlier, 10 people were killed in a Buffalo, New York grocery store in a racially-motivated attack with a semiautomatic rifle. In those two fleeting moments 10 days apart, 31 families had a loved one brutally stolen from them. These families and their communities will be forever changed.

By Chris Harris

UPDATE: A bipartisan group of senators led by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced an agreement on a framework of a bill to reduce gun violence. The bill, called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, incentivizes states to pass so-called red flag laws, closes the “boyfriend loophole,” cracks down on trafficking and straw purchasing, enhances background checks for gun buyers under 21, along with additional investments in mental health and school security. On June 23, the bill passed the Senate, which voted 65-33. The House passed the bill on June 24, voting 234-193. President Biden indicated that he will sign it swiftly. The Senate vote coincided with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, et al., which struck down a New York law requiring people to demonstrate a particular need in order to get a license to carry a gun in a concealed way in public. The majority opinion asserted that the U.S. Constitution protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home.”

Horrific mass shootings capture attention and spark calls for action. Yet for every massacre that makes national headlines, there are dozens more shootings happening daily. More than 40 Americans, including three children, are victims of gun homicides every single day, with another 90 people surviving the attempt on their lives. The unfathomable scale of gun deaths in this country makes it seem impossible to reverse the trend. But other countries have found the political will to change laws and take practical steps to significantly curb gun violence. It will take a collective effort, with all sectors and stakeholders taking a stand to make that possible here in America.

What is businesses’ role in reducing gun deaths?

Shootings are not natural disasters. They are not inevitable. Most gun deaths are, in fact, easily preventable — our country has simply chosen not to enact the policies that would prevent them. There are signs the tide may be starting to turn. New polling shows that 71% of Americans view gun violence as a major issue and bipartisan talks have begun in the Senate. And like the battle for LGBTQ+ rights, businesses have a role to play.

Many executives are understandably wary about wading into hot-button issues for fear of offending customers or elected officials. But as we’ve seen recently with other charged issues, not speaking out often outweighs those risks — especially when it comes to responding to employee expectations. Any organization’s decision on whether or not to engage with these issues will necessarily require leaders to carefully evaluate how internal and external stakeholders will react. As business leaders consider their options, it is important to look at the facts and perhaps revisit some common misconceptions among the public and media.

More than 90% of both gun owners and non-gun owners said they supported universal background checks.

Consumers — and employees — overwhelmingly support meaningful action.

The usual media practice of featuring two opposing opinions is a virtue in most instances. In some cases, however, it can give the inaccurate impression that the public is split. The “debate” over measures to curb gun violence is one of those instances — in the real world, they simply are not controversial. As described in a recent study in JAMA Network Open, “Misperceptions of the gun safety opinion climate may help to explain the disconnect between policy support and policy action… In the US, news media regularly misrepresent public views on gun policy, inaccurately suggesting a deep divide between gun owners and non–gun owners.”

The findings bear that out. As described by Ohio State University, “More than 90% of both gun owners and non-gun owners said they supported universal background checks. About 85% of non-gun owners and 72% percent of gun owners supported mandatory waiting periods, and 83% of non-gun owners and 63% of gun owners supported safe storage laws.” Likewise, when Gallup asked if respondents favored requiring background checks for all gun sales, 95% said yes. (By comparison, arming school officials topped at 42%.)

This is not to say that support is unanimous or that there is zero risk in a business speaking out. There is a passionate and vocal minority who oppose any additional laws regulating access to firearms. Yet it is undeniable that one would be hard-pressed to find another issue with such broad support for meaningful government action.

Companies can support Second Amendment rights AND support policies that save lives.

There is no contradiction in supporting Americans’ right to own a firearm for sport or self-defense while also supporting commonsense reforms that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Gun owners understand this (as you can see above). Businesses can be proud of the Constitution’s Second Amendment while also supporting popular, common-sense proposals to keep their employees and customers safe.

The vast majority of gun owners are responsible, law-abiding individuals who share a commitment to safety. When speaking about these issues, it is important to remain focused on reducing gun deaths and refrain from making overly broad statements that could be perceived as a judgment or condemnation of gun owners.

There is an emerging corporate consensus on this issue.

Companies across industries have in recent years taken principled stands in the face of this epidemic of gun violence. Many large retailers have amended their firearm sales policies, with many stopping sales of assault-style rifles and banning sales to persons under the age of 21. Several banks have instituted new requirements for retail clients or stopped financing the commercial firearms industry altogether. A powerful group of institutional investors issued “Principles for a Responsible Civilian Firearms Industry” to use its influence to encourage the firearms industry to adopt measures that increase safety. Others from airlines to insurers have ceased partnerships with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

There is no one-size-fits-all corporate approach to gun violence. Potential avenues for action are virtually endless and, contrary to popular belief, can be 100% nonpolitical. On one end of the spectrum, businesses can contribute to support funds for victims’ families, pledge to pay ongoing counseling and medical bills of survivors, or give to charities, such as Sandy Hook Promise, which educates school communities on how to spot warning signs and prevent violence through early intervention.

Businesses that choose to pursue policy changes have many options as well. Of course, the most direct option is to be outspoken in the press and on social media, but that approach will not suit every company. Corporate leaders can pursue partnerships or offer employees volunteer opportunities with gun violence prevention organizations like Moms Demand ActionGiffords, or Brady United. Companies can join forces with others in their industry — or across industries — to publish a letter, buy full-page ad, or launch a formal coalition that fights for change. Businesses can even utilize their lobbyists or government relations teams to communicate priorities to lawmakers in meetings (or at fundraisers). And those firms or industry groups that choose to engage in political giving can include gun violence issues on candidate questionnaires.

…universal background checks reduce homicide rates by 15%.

Simple solutions can make a difference.

The difficulty of enacting policy changes should not be mistaken for gun violence being a difficult problem to address. The solutions are relatively simple, Congress is not. Not everyone will agree with every option, but businesses have many paths to consider supporting:

  • Spotting the warning signs. Frequently in the days after a mass shooting the media reports that a teacher, family member, or acquaintance had raised issues about a killer’s concerning actions or statements. According to a report on school threats from the U.S. Secret Service, an astounding 77% of school shooters openly shared intentions to carry out an attack. Widespread education on how to spot warning signs and report troubling behaviors can save lives.
  • Red flag laws. Even when a warning sign is identified and the concern valid, many jurisdictions lack the legal authority to step in and prevent the next tragedy. “Red flag” or “extreme risk” laws (and other similar proposals) permit a person to petition a court to decide whether to temporarily prevent a person from possessing a firearm. 19 states have adopted extreme risk protection order laws, which have saved untold hundreds of lives.
  • Background checks. According to a 2019 study from Harvard University and Boston University, universal background checks reduce homicide rates by 15%. Separately, laws that banned firearm possession by those convicted of a violent misdemeanor (as opposed to just felonies) was associated with 18% fewer homicides.
  • Gun trafficking & straw purchasing. Differing state laws mean it is relatively simple to purchase a firearm in a state with lax laws for resale in a state with more restrictive laws. According to Johns Hopkins University, “State universal background checks — along with other state laws designed to increase gun seller and purchaser accountability — significantly reduce the number of guns diverted to the illegal market, where high risk groups often get their guns. States without universal background check laws have 30 percent higher levels of exporting across state lines guns that were later recovered from criminals.” There are bipartisan proposals to crack down on straw purchasers.
  • Domestic violence. Research has determined that an abuser’s access to a firearm correlated to a fivefold increase in likelihood the victim would be killed. According to an Everytown analysis of mass shootings in America, more than half of the perpetrators had previously been accused of domestic violence. While Congress tried to prohibit convicted domestic abusers from owning firearms, the law only applies to spouses, parents or live-in partners. This so-called boyfriend loophole has cost thousands of lives simply because the abuser did not live with his victim.
  • Suicide. Gun suicides make up half of the suicides in the United States and the majority of firearm deaths, making restricting access to firearms a key priority. The Department of Defense has made this a major focus. As writes, research “shows it can take less than 10 minutes between thinking about suicide to acting on it. For many people, thoughts of suicide and the desire to end one’s life come quickly and intensely. But these thoughts also tend to subside and reduce in intensity just as quickly. Safe storage practices increase the time it takes for a person experiencing suicidal thoughts to access a lethal item. During this critical time, the desire to die may wane. The person may be reminded of reasons to live, or someone else may be able to intervene, resulting in a life saved. Nonetheless, DOD’s aim is to add measures that build in additional safeguards between someone who may be at risk for suicide and a method for suicide.”

Overall, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 90% of individuals who attempt to take their life do not die by suicide. This opportunity to walk away is not possible when a person turns to a firearm, which have a mortality rate of nearly 85%. There is data showing the effectiveness of many of the ideas mentioned above, including red flag laws, safe storage, and education, among others. The state of Connecticut, for instance, saw a 14% decrease in firearm suicides after it implemented an Extreme Risk law.

Chris Harris


Vice President, Social Impact & Public Affairs

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