Among U.S businesses, it has become commonplace to encourage employees and the general public to vote. It’s an easy way support political action without the appearance of partisanship. These efforts will be more challenging than ever during the 2022 midterm elections, especially in states where relaxed gun laws make it easier for extremists to threaten and intimidate voters, election workers and elected officials. On the positive side, a new movement is afoot that could help discourage gun owners from displaying – let alone using – their weapons with ill intent.
“Red” states at greater risk for gun violence and voter restrictions, too
A recent study by the non-profit organization Everytown for Gun Safety underscores the obvious: on a per capita basis, people are in greater danger where gun ownership is treated more casually.
“When we compare the states head-to-head on the top 50 gun safety policies, a clear pattern emerges. States with strong laws see less gun violence. Indeed, the 13 states that have failed to put basic protections into place — ‘national failures’ on our scale—have nearly three times as many gun deaths as the eight national gun safety leaders,” Everytown explains.
Rather than strengthening gun safety laws, however, many states have been moving in the opposite direction.
Last summer, Bloomberg reported that a total of 21 states have permit-less carry laws on the books, including newcomers Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
“These statutes typically eliminate the need to complete training and obtain a license before carrying a concealed firearm in public, making it easier to carry a gun around than to cut hair or drive a car,” Bloomberg pointed out.
Earlier this month, Everytown also highlighted the connection between the failed insurrection of January 6, 2021 and easy access to guns by extremists.
Many states that enable extremist violence through gun ownership are among those passing new laws making it harder to vote, including Texas, Florida and Georgia.
Georgia is an especially clear example of the overlap between gun rights, voter restrictions and the failed insurrection. The state is an epicenter of former President Trump’s alleged attempts to remain in power despite losing the 2020 election.
By the end of last year, the Brennan Center for Justice counted an “extraordinary” number of new voting restrictions, with carryover bills making additional restrictions likely this year before the midterm elections.
“Between January 1 and December 7, at least 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting. More than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions,” the Brennan Center noted.
The liability solution
Corporate voices began to speak out and take action on gun violence in the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Starbucks and Levi Strauss being three of the more high-profile examples among retailers.
The “shopper safety” movement faded from the media eye after the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, but signs are emerging that a new “voter safety” movement could take its place.
The City of San José, California sparked a media firestorm last week, when it passed a new law requiring gun owners in the city to take out liability insurance and pay a fee to offset the cost of gun violence to taxpayers. The new ordinance is intended to foster gun storage protocols and other safety measures among the 55,000 households in the city known to keep guns on their premises.
The new law follows a gun-enabled massacre in the city last year, during which a “disgruntled” employee of the region’s Valley Transportation Authority killed nine of his co-workers.
“Tonight San José became the first city in the United States to enact an ordinance to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance, and to invest funds generated from fees paid by gun owners into evidence-based initiatives to reduce gun violence and gun harm,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a public statement.
Of particular interest is the attention paid to creating a law that has a good chance of withstanding lawsuits on constitutional grounds. Liccardo made it clear that the extra effort is intended to provide other jurisdictions with a constitutionally sound model to follow.
“I am deeply grateful also to our advocacy and legal partners with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP, EveryTown, Moms Demand Action, SAFE, the Gifford Law Alliance and many others who work tirelessly to help us craft a constitutionally compliant path to mitigate the unnecessary suffering from gun harm in our community,” Liccardo said. “I look forward to supporting the efforts of others to replicate these initiatives across the nation.”
The knives are out for new San Jose gun safety law
Not surprisingly, the new law has been met with fierce opposition from organizations that work to enable gun violence.
The National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) was the first to file a lawsuit. The organization describes itself as uncompromising on gun ownership.
“At the National Association for Gun Rights, we know if you give anti-gun politicians an inch, they will take a mile. That’s why we always take a no-compromise stance when defending our right to keep and bear arms. We will never cut backroom deals. We will never compromise,” NAGR states.
In an appeal to raise funds to cover legal expenses, NAGR also emphasizes that “if these gun grabbers get away with taxing the right to own a gun, every Left-leaning local government across the country will quickly follow.”
Midterm elections a reminder that louder voices are needed on voter safety
NAGR is right to be concerned. Though the constitutional fight has just begun, the insurance industry has shown signs that it could develop products that promote responsible gun ownership and discourage acts of intimidation.
In a 2018 article on the topic, The Actuary Magazine noted that “firearm deaths and injuries are a significant problem in the United States and an important societal issue with actuarial and insurance aspects. Indeed, the American Medical Association recently called firearm violence ‘a public health crisis’ and called for a comprehensive public health response and solution.”
“Gun violence in America exacts a significant toll on our society in both human and economic terms. The economic cost of firearms directly affects the financial outcomes of insurers and taxpayers. Actuaries are well positioned to study the mortality and morbidity related to firearms, yet there is little on the topic in actuarial and insurance literature,” the article continues.
The absence of research and study is no accident. Federal law has discouraged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from studying gun violence for more than 20 years. Florida and other states have also attempted to prevent doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients.
Nevertheless, CDC makes a point that could provide more business leaders with leverage to advocate for new voter safety laws.
On its website, the CDC lists the short- and long-term impacts of gun violence on victims, and the social trauma experienced by whole communities. The CDC further points out that “the economic impact of firearm violence also substantial. Firearm violence costs the United States tens of billions of dollars each year in medical and lost productivity costs alone.”
The temperature is rising on violent extremism and voter suppression, and the City of San José and the CDC have handed corporate America a powerful, bottom-line argument to push back.
As business leaders plan their get-out-the-vote efforts this year, voter safety should be on the top of their to-do lists as the midterm elections draw nearer.
Image credit: Pexels
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.