A 2018 March For Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C.
Top brands have long pussy-footed around the issue of gun violence in the U.S., and for good reason. A matrix of political power has steered the public conversation for a generation. Business leaders who speak out risk the wrath of elected officials, a gun lobby that supports them financially and a base of consumers for whom unrestricted gun ownership is a top voting priority. Now the gun taboo has finally cracked. The only missing link is an action step.
It may seem impossible to awaken the corporate voice on gun violence. However, consider the impact of grassroots social movements. Today it is commonplace for corporations to take a stand on issues that were once taboo. That includes pushing back against institutionalized oppression, such as the 2017 “Muslim ban,” the treatment of migrant children and the murder of George Floyd.
In the area of womens’ and LGBTQ+ rights, corporate support was virtually nonexistent just 40 years ago. Today, DEI (diversity, equality and inclusion) programs are a fixture among top corporations.
Corporations do face a powerful opponent in the National Rifle Association, despite the organization’s recent troubles. Gun control also does not have overwhelming support from voters. Public support for background checks and other measures runs high in surveys, but voters have prioritized other matters.
Nevertheless, some corporate leaders have taken a stand. It is no accident that the loudest corporate voices on gun violence in recent years have been Dick’s Sporting Goods, Levi-Strauss, Starbucks and other leading retailers, all of which face bottom-line impacts when their shoppers and employees are at risk.
This “shopper safety movement” was slow to gain traction until just days ago, in the aftermath of the Tops Supermarket massacre in Buffalo, New York on May 14 and the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas on May 24. In both cases, the weapons were reported to be legally purchased by the shooters, both 18 years old.
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In response, the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball franchises turned their entire Twitter feeds during game time on Thursday, May 26 into a running fact-check on gun violence. As the innings ticked by, the two teams spilled fact after fact about gun violence to their combined following of more than 4 million Twitter accounts, including media and other influencers as well as everyday fans.
It was a straightforward message: No-one is safe. Not at the supermarket, not at school, not at a house of worship, not at home, not at the local Little League field, and not, by extension, at a Major League Baseball game.
The Rays also provided an action step. They encouraged their Twitter followers to donate to Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun safety organization that has steadily gained influence in coordination with Shannon Watts’s Moms Demand Action group. March for Our Lives, Students Demand Action and other groups have also added to the grassroots groundswell.
“¬We all deserve to be safe – in schools, grocery stores, places of worship, our neighborhoods, houses and America,” the Rays wrote.
“Everytown is the largest gun violence prevention organization in America,” they emphasized.
Jim Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors has also deployed his high profile platform to advocate for the Brady gun safety organization.
Corporate leaders can also take a cue from San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler. He deployed his lifestyle blog to explain and advocate for individual protest, similar to that of football star Colin Kaepernick’s 2018 protests against racism in policing.
It is fair to ask if the inexorable crush of the news cycle will bury all the outrage, as it has so many times before. However, this time around there is a crucial difference.
The pro-gun lobby has long touted security improvements and arming more “good guys” as the leading solutions to gun violence. The Buffalo and Uvalde massacres blew up both of those solutions to spectacular effect.
Tops Supermarket did have a security plan and a good guy with a gun, the heroic, newly retired police officer Aaron Salter, but he was no match for the firepower wielded by a teenager.
The Uvalde incident was an especially egregious failure at every level. The local school district reportedly had an extensive security plan in place and the good guys with guns showed up in force, but they failed to take action.
Naturally, the gun lobby will continue to point its finger at video games, mental illness, bullying, “woke” culture, absent fathers, critical race theory and every other available non-gun cause of gun violence. These social problems are also endemic in other nations; however, but no other country has a gun violence problem remotely close to what U.S. citizens endure again and again.
In reality, though, the destruction of the “good guys with guns” myth leaves the gun lobby with just one tool in its toolkit: the U.S. Constitution.
Corporate leaders need to understand where that argument came from in order to push back against it.
A common sense reading of the Second Amendment indicates room for reasonable safety regulations, just as there are reasonable restrictions on speech and assembly rights. However, in 2008 a pro-gun interpretation gathered traction in the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court.
As a result, the right to bear arms has become unmoored from matters of civic security. Even though the Second Amendment references “a well-regulated militia” and “the security of a free State,” the courts have set gun ownership adrift in the sphere of private behavior, where it has attained the status of a sacred patriotic duty.
The constitutional argument has been a powerful asset to the gun lobby in recent years. However, this time the constitutional waters have been muddied by happenstance.
As it happened, the Uvalde massacre took place in Texas, a state in which elected officials have worked diligently to restrict abortion rights. The hideous spectacle of a state machinery policing the human uterus while leaving actual children to die has underscored the absurdity of elevating gun rights to a sacred mantra at the expense of community welfare.
The clash of taboos in Texas has already attracted notice from liberal activists. In an interview with Fortune executive editor Kristen Bellstrom published on May 27, law professor and author Anita Hill argued that “we need to understand the role that anti-woman thinking has had in school violence, mass murders, and other kinds of violent behavior.”
Meanwhile, some influencers on the conservative side of the aisle have gone into damage control mode.
In a May 26 interview with the Catholic publication The Pillar, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas opened the door to a constitutional re-set on gun violence prevention when he questioned the insistence on “sacralizing” gun ownership above community welfare. Flores – who chairs the U.S. bishops’ committee on doctrine -- appeared to suggest that if any sacralizing is to be done, it can only be done by his organization, which espouses a hardline position on pregnancy rights.
Another crack in the constitutional armor came from the conservative actor, pregnancy rights opponent and outspoken Trump supporter Jon Voight. He posted a video on Facebook last Friday in which he issued a clarion call for universal background checks and training requirements, carefully couched in padding amenable to his 539,000 followers.
The longstanding taboo on naming guns as the cause of gun violence has finally cracked across the board. Conservative influencers appear willing to sacrifice the constitutional argument against gun control, in order to continue claiming the high ground on uterus control.
Corporate leaders can choose to take a back seat on this conversation, or they can stand up and help prevent the next preventable catastrophe.
Image credit: Tim Mudd via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.