by Jarrett Kerbel
Our lives are in danger. In our schools, houses of worship, shopping malls, movie theaters, fairgrounds, sidewalks and concert venues, a gunman may open fire with horrific results. Any other public safety threat of this magnitude would attract swift corrective action. Instead, we pretend that can adapt to an unacceptable level of danger and violence, forcing our terrified children through traumatizing live-shooter drills, posting armed guards outside houses of worship, living in fear, grief and anger.
We need to defend our right to life and safety with sufficient leverage and intensity to overcome the well-funded lobbyists who serve a tiny minority of our country and the firearms industry. An ever-smaller fraction of the population even owns a gun while the diminishing group of gun owners stockpile greater quantities of weapons.
Gun extremists, emboldened by a highly suspect and novel interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, callously ignore the death, misery and havoc spread by an under-regulated gun market. It is heartbreaking to me that responsible gun owners cannot accept sane limitations for the sake of the common good but insist instead on an absolutist agenda that allows no healthy compromise. If, like me, you are tired of argument and rhetoric, here are some powerful actions we can take to make a difference.
Stockholder activism is a powerful way to move our country toward sensible gun safety. Roman Catholic nuns are pioneering this approach using their right as stockholders to wield influence over gun manufacturers. The nuns attend shareholder meetings and move resolutions requiring the gun maker to report on the safety of the product and on the security of their sales network. If you own stock in a gun manufacturer or are part of an organization that holds such stocks in an endowment you too can engage in stockholder activism.
Municipal purchasing power is another point of leverage to change the game for the gun industry. The City and County of Philadelphia should use the buying and bargaining power of the police and sheriff’’s department to exert influence over their suppliers. Simple changes to Requests for Proposal stipulating both the types of guns needed and the qualities of a company we are willing to engage will move companies to adapt so they can compete. Joining with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Wilmington and New York City, etc., would make this strategy even more effective. Contact the Mayor and your City Council representative to apply pressure for this game-changer. Our elected leaders have more power to protect us and they need to use it.
Finally, the sphere of finance and business has tremendous power to effect change in the gun safety conditions of our country. We should all praise Dick’s Sporting Goods for their courageous move to discontinue gun sales, and we should praise Walmart as well for ending the sale of ammunition for assault rifles and handguns. Blackrock Investment managers should be praised for requiring gun manufacturers to meet safety standards for their products and retail practices.
We need to put pressure on credit card companies and banks to block the use of credit cards for gun sales and for more effective flagging of suspicious sales. If you work for a company with a stake in the gun business now is the time to get creative and use your leverage to protect your neighbors from an out-of-control gun violence subculture.
Insist that these companies take responsibility for best practices on the retail end of the business. Insist that companies discontinue all assault style semi-automatic weapon manufacture. Insist that they limit magazines to five to 10 rounds. Insist that they remove mechanisms for rapid reloading of spent magazines. Insist that companies adopt “smart gun technology” for their products, which means only the owner can operate the weapon.
This feature will prevent accidental shootings by children in the home, innumerable suicides, the use of a weapon by an intruder against the owner or a police officer, and the illegal transfer of stolen or lost weapons. Insist that companies add tracking chips to ammunition that directly link shell casings and slugs to the supplier and owner. Insist that these companies stop blocking attempts for sensible national gun licensing, registration, background checks and red-flag laws.
The technology in my iPhone could revolutionize safety in the gun industry if we insist on its application. The NRA has made itself so extreme and irrational as to be almost irrelevant to the debate going forward. One could say they have created the conditions of their demise, an America so horribly violent that common sense is returning to our approach to gun safety.
When I worked in Chicago, I buried a 19-year-old former member of my church youth group who was shot and killed during his freshman year in college. He was at a party and someone pulled a gun and opened fire. Charlie was unarmed, and bystanders said he died protecting other students from the assailant. Seeing young Charlie in that casket in the church where he was my acolyte, student and friend, where I had hoped to someday celebrate his wedding and baptize his children, was devastating. All the more so, because it was preventable.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel is Rector of the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.